Figurative language denotes the unusual use of language for a special effect. A figurative phrase read literally will sound like nonsense, because figurative language expresses meanings beyond the mere definitions of words. All kinds of writers from all genres of writing, especially poets, use figurative language devices to enhance the meaning of their sentences.
A metaphor is a figurative language device that represents one thing as if it were another, or compares two things not normally viewed as similar, such as "time is a thief." This comparison draws attention to the way time is quick and stealthy.
A simile is similar to a metaphor in that it compares two unlike things; however, a simile compares using "like" or "as." For example, "she ran like the wind."
Hyperbole is an overstatement or exaggeration of speech for an effect. In the example "the ball bounced to the sky," the ball did not literally reach the sky, but the hyperbolic expression suggests the ball bounced extremely high, so it seemed as though it touched the sky.
Describing an inanimate object with human or lifelike qualities is called personification. The sentence "The sun smiled down on me" depicts the sun as "smiling" to express the idea that sun rays feel friendly and warm, although a sun is incapable of literally smiling.
An oxymoron is an example of figurative language that contains two seemingly contradictory elements, such as "wise fool," "jumbo shrimp" or "icy hot."
Using a physical object to indicate a larger idea is named metonymy. For instance, the word "crown" can refer to a king or a monarchical system, or even an entire royal family. Journalists often refer to the United States government as "Washington," as in "We'll wait to see how Washington responds to this recent change in developments."
Detailed description which incorporates many of the five senses -- sight, sound, smell, taste and touch -- is called imagery. When a writer uses imagery, he or she creates a "mental picture" for the reader. That means the descriptions are so vivid the reader can almost imagine he or she is there. Many of the other figurative language devices can be examples of imagery.
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- Carson-Newman College: Literary Terms and Definitions
- "The Norton Introduction to Literature: Eighth Edition;" Ed. Jerome Beaty et al; 2001
- comedy of errors image by LadyInBlack from Fotolia.com