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Types of Descriptive or Figurative Language

Updated April 17, 2017

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.

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.

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

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

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

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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About the Author

Pamela Baldwin has been writing professionally since 1991 and her work has appeared in various online publications. She teaches writing classes on a collegiate level and has a Master of Forensic Sciences from National University. She is working on her Juris Doctor from Taft Law School.