Why Do Authors Use Figurative Language?

Figurative language can add a richness to our writing, speech, and stories in a way that can reflect creativity and culture. In your cards, maybe you’ve used exaggerated statements like, “I will love you until the end of time!” Similarly, maybe you’ve used phrases like, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” to explain your appetite. Likewise, perhaps you’ve read a passage that illustrated such vivid pictures in your mind that you could almost smell the salty ocean breeze or hear the seagulls flying above you. So why do authors use figurative language, and what makes it so enchanting?

Put simply, figurative language is a way for authors to add color, depth, and emotion to their writing. These statements and phrases go beyond the ordinary, everyday use of words. Instead of stating something directly, authors use figurative language to create comparisons, associations, or images that evoke powerful feelings and sensory experiences in readers. Finally, some figurative language phrases are also an important way to recognize and reflect culture in stories, writing, and speech.

One of the main reasons authors use figurative language is to make their writing more engaging and entertaining. Imagine reading a story that says, “The sun was hot.” It conveys a simple fact, but it doesn’t excite the imagination. Now, consider this alternative: “The sun beamed down like a fiery ball, turning the world into a sizzling oven.” The second sentence not only describes the heat but also supports a detailed image, making the reading experience more enjoyable and enhancing the reader’s understanding.

Figurative language also helps authors express complex emotions and ideas in a way that is easily understood by readers. Emotions can be intense and difficult to convey through plain words, but with the use of similes, metaphors, and personification, writers can create powerful connections. For instance, saying, “Her smile was as bright as the sun” evokes warmth and happiness.

Additionally, figurative language is an excellent tool for creating imagery and setting the mood in a story or poem. By appealing to the reader’s senses, authors can add richness as well as an element of fantasy. Consider this example: “The ancient forest whispered secrets to the passing wind, its emerald leaves dancing in the soft, silvery moonlight.” This poetic use of language helps us visualize a mystical forest and sets an enchanting atmosphere. Another reason writers and speakers embrace figurative language is to create a unique writing style.

There are many different types of figurative language. Here’s a concise list with simple definitions:

  1. Hyperbole: Exaggeration used for emphasis or effect. Example: “I’ve told you a million times!”
  2. Idiom: A phrase or expression with a meaning different from the literal interpretation.

Example: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

  • Metaphor: A comparison between two unrelated things, stating that one is the other. Example: “Time is a thief.”
  • Oxymoron: Combining two contradictory words to create a new meaning. Example: “Jumbo shrimp” or “bittersweet.”
  • Personification: Giving human characteristics or emotions to non-human things or animals.

Example: “The flowers danced in the breeze.”

  • Simile: A comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” Example: “Her smile was as bright as the sun.”

Some figurative language expressions are also cultural and originate from all over the world. You may recognize some of these!

Expression: “Break a leg!”

Type of figurative language: hyperbole, metaphor

Definition/Explanation: A way to wish someone good luck, especially before a performance or an important event.

Expression: “It’s raining cats and dogs!”

Type of figurative language: hyperbole, metaphor, idiom Definition/Explanation: Used to describe a heavy rain.

Expression: “Save face”

Type of figurative language: metaphor

Definition/Explanation: To avoid humiliation or embarrassment in a social situation.

Expression: “Bite the bullet”

Type of figurative language: metaphor, idiom

Definition/Explanation: To endure a difficult situation with courage and determination.

Expression: “The elephant in the room”

Type of figurative language: metaphor, idiom

Definition/Explanation: Refers to a significant problem or issue that everyone is aware of but avoids discussing because it’s uncomfortable or sensitive.




Be sure to check out our figurative language anchor chart resources too!

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