Types of Descriptive or Figurative Language

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Types of Descriptive or Figurative Language
Using descriptive or figurative language are ways to make descriptions more vivid. (writing image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com)

When writing descriptions, two types of descriptive words -- adjectives and adverbs -- can be used to make the description more specific. Figurative language is a linguistic tool used to depict something in a manner other than literal. Some of the types of figurative language are metaphors, similes, personifications, hyperboles and symbolism.

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Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives describe or modify nouns. Adverbs are used to describe or modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. The following sentence uses adjectives and adverbs to describe how fast the girl drank and how cold the water was: The girl very quickly drank the really cold water.

drank -- verb

quickly -- adverb describing drank

very -- adverb describing quickly

water -- noun

cold -- adjective describing water

really -- adverb describing cold

Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors compare two unlike items using a form of "be." An example of a metaphor: "When Timothy has a difficult decision to make, he is a rock." Similes also compare two unlike items, but similes use "like" or "as" to compare. An example of a simile : "Though she is a young girl, she is like a withered tree." The main difference between a metaphor and a simile is that the metaphor compares the man to the rock by saying that Timothy is a rock; the simile doesn't say that the young girl is a tree -- it says that she is like a tree.


Personifications give human qualities to something that is not a human being. This can be animal, an object, an idea or a place. An example of a personification: "The ancient tree screamed in torment as the arctic wind ripped through its twisted branches." The tree is given the human quality of being able to scream.


Hyperboles are exaggerations used to emphasise a point. An example of a hyperbole: "I have told my son a billion times to clean his room." The number a "billion" is an exaggerated number that means that the mother has told her son to clean his room many, many times.


Symbolism is using one thing to represent another thing. Some examples of symbolism are using the image of water to represent life or using the image of a bald eagle to represent freedom. However, all symbols are not universal. Therefore, while the image of the bald eagle would represent freedom to an American, it would not have the same meaning to someone from a country other than the United States.

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