List of Figurative Language Techniques

Updated April 17, 2017

Figurative language is the deliberate use of language in a way other than its plain, literal usage. Novelists, poets, speechwriters and playwrights use figurative language as a way of emphasising a point, drawing a comparison or clarifying a contrast. Understanding figurative language can help people communicate more effectively and better understand books, poems, movies, speeches and advertisements.


Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the start of several words in a sentence. Writers use alliteration as both ornamentation and as a memory aid. It appears in poetry, storytelling, tongue twisters, proverbs, speech making and advertising. The Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf" is known for its alliteration such as "Then came from the moor, under the misty hills, Grendel stalking; the God's anger bare." Other examples are found in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Piers Plowman" and a "A Midsummer Night's Dream."


A simile is an unrealistic comparison between two unlike things using either "like" or "as." For example, in his poem "A Red, Red Rose" Robert Burns compares his love to a "red, red rose" and a "melody that's sweetly played." Obviously Burns' love isn't physically similar to either a flower or a song but the comparison to things the reader might consider beautiful suggests her beauty. Similes also appear in several common idioms such as "like a fish out of water," "as strong as an ox" and "sell like hotcakes."


A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that doesn't use "like" or "as." The simile says that "A" is like "B" but the metaphor says "A" is "B." For example a writer working on a war story could say, "King Richard was as fierce as a lion in the battle" (simile) or "King Richard was a lion in the battle" (metaphor). Of course, King Richard isn't actually a lion but he is perceived as having something in common with lions, such as fierceness.


Hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration for emphasis rather than deception. Hyperbole is not usually meant to be taken literally and is a common device in poetry, idioms and everyday speech. For example, saying, "Carnegie has a ton of money" emphasises his great wealth without literally meaning that his money weighs 454 Kilogram. Saying the old woman is "as old as the hills" shows her great age but doesn't mean she is literally as old as the hills.


Onomatopoeia is the use of words that imitate sounds such as the bees buzz, the clothes r-r-rippp and the cat miaow. Poets use onomatopoeia to reinforce the meaning of verse with sounds they have chosen. For example, in his poem "Song of the Lotus-Eaters," Tennyson emphasises the languid lifestyle of the Lotus-Eaters by the sounds he uses in his description of their home such as "creep" and "weep." Onomatopoeia also appears in children's books, advertising and comic books.

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About the Author

Frank B. Chavez III has been a professional writer since 2006. His articles have appeared on numerous websites including WitchVox and Spectrum Nexus as well as in the e-magazine Gods and Empires. He has his associate degree with an emphasis in theater arts from Chabot College, where he received the theater department's Joeray Madrid Award for Excellence in Dramaturgy.