What Is a Figure of Speech? (with Examples)

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What Is a Figure of Speech? (with Examples)

A figure of speech is an expression in which the words are not used in their literal sense.

A figure of speech is designed to portray an idea more clearly or more interestingly. The most common types of figures of speech are metaphors, similes, idioms, personification, hyperbole, and euphemisms

Note: Some sources do not differentiate between a figure of speech and figurative language. As the term figurative language includes techniques that might employ the literal meanings of words (e.g., alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia), an alternative definition for figure of speech is the use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner.

Examples of Figures of Speech

Here are some examples of figures of speech in the categories which most commonly employ words in their non-literal meaning:


A metaphor asserts that one thing is something that it literally is not. For example:
  • This bedroom is a prison.
  • He's a real gannet.
  • He listened with a stone face.
  • We don't need dinosaurs in this company.


A simile likens one thing to another (usually achieved by the use of the word like or as). For example:
  • He eats like a gannet.
  • This sandwich tastes like sawdust between two doormats.
  • She sings like an angel.
  • It's like water off a duck's back.


Personification is when non-human objects are given human traits. For example:
  • The tide waits for no man.
  • My car tends to give up on long hills.
  • Summer's healing rays


Hyperbole is an exaggeration or extravagant statement used for effect. For example:
  • I have a million problems.
  • We won a tonne of cash.
  • I'll die if I don't finish this crossword.


An idiom is commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. For example:
  • Be careful not to miss the boat.
  • This is the last straw.
  • You can't pull the wool over my eyes.
  • Don't sit on the fence. Say what you mean.


A euphemism is the use of agreeable or inoffensive words to replace rude or offensive ones. For example:
  • kicked the bucket = has died
  • knocked up = is pregnant
  • letting you go = you're fired
  • lost his marbles = is mad
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