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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Figurative language occurs when the writer's words have deeper meaning than the literal language.  The writer often uses figurative language to describe something by making a comparison.  In your example question, the correct answer is C).  "Switch off this biological signal" uses metaphor, a comparison between two unlike things without using the words "like" or "as."

The writer's use of the word "switch" and "signal" makes the reader think of machinery or electricity, with the connotation or understanding that the biological signal could be turned off, the way some people might flip a switch to turn off their lights. 

The other possible answer choices in the question are much more straightforward and use academic vocabulary but do not draw any comparisons beyond their literal meaning.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To put it simply, figurative language is the opposite of literal use of language. It is language that is symbolic or filled with figures of speeches that make the language non-literal. Figurative language is often use to make a point more memorable. You could say that figurative language has feelings, emotions, rhetoric and even paints a verbal picture. For example, you can say that a car speed down the highway at 123 miles per hour. This would be literal. Or you can say that the car flew down the highway so quickly that it took your breath away. This is figurative language, because cars do not fly and I am sure that it did not take your breath away. Figurative language makes writing and reading more interesting.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Figurative (or representational) language is speech that involves imagery with the purpose of further describing a noun without the use of a formal definition. Instead, the writer will compare one noun to another (simile) or replace one noun with another which is of a very similar nature to explain its description (metaphor).

Those idiomatic expressions you hear such as "white as a ghost" and the expressions used in poetry to define abstracts such as love "my love is like a red, red rose" are typical examples of figurative language.

Oh, and figurative language is not to be taken literary. It is meant to be understood within the context of the information and/or the story.


udonbutterfly | Student

Figurative language is when something is said one way but it is meant to mean something else. Examples of figurative language would be...

It rained cats and dogs- Describing how hard it rains

His heart screamed with longing for her- Describing how he misses her a lot.

There's plenty of fish in the sea- Meant to describe that there are more dating options

msnewbooklover | Student

What is Figurative Language?

Whenever you describe something by comparing it with something else,
you are using figurative language. 


A simile uses the words “like” or “as”
to compare one object or idea with another to suggest they are alike.
Example: busy as a bee


The metaphor states a fact or draws a verbal picture by the use of comparison.
A simile would say you are like something; a metaphor is more positive - it says you are something.
Example: You are what you eat.


A figure of speech in which human characteristics are given
to an animal or an object. Example: My teddy bear gave me a hug.


The repetition of the same initial letter, sound, or group of sounds in a series of words.
Alliteration includes tongue twisters. Example: She sells seashells by the seashore.


The use of a word to describe or imitate a natural sound or the sound
made by an object or an action. Example: snap crackle pop


An exaggeration that is so dramatic that no one would believe the statement is true.
Tall tales are hyperboles.
Example: He was so hungry, he ate that whole cornfield for lunch, stalks and all.


According to Webster's Dictionary, an idiom is defined as: peculiar to itself
either grammatically (as no, it wasn't me) or in having a meaning
that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements
(as Monday week for "the Monday a week after next Monday")


A cliché is an expression that has been used so often that it has become trite
and sometimes boring. Example: Many hands make light work.

ahoward0064 | Student

Figurative language is a device used by writers in many different genres to paint a descriptive picture for the reader. Examples of types of figurative language include similes, metaphors, and idioms.  These types compare two or more unlike things.

For example, in the simile, the sky was as black as a cat, a cat and sky aren't alike but it helps the reader understand its darkness. Similes use words such as like or as to compare two things. Metaphors make a direct comparison. She is a brick house. She is not really a brick house, but the writer is implying that she is strong and sturdy. Idioms are expressions that cannot be interpreted word for word, such as, "My heart is beating out of my chest." It is not physically coming out of your chest, but this describes a character as nervous or scared.

sillylillie | Student

Some resources I have used to teach my students figurative language:

jvalent6 | Student

Figurative language is used to describe one item with another item (with the first object's characteristics) that the listener is better familiar with.  Or, you might want to use figurative language to describe an item in a creative way.

Example:  The clouds look like soft, white, puffballs. 

alexaliyah | Student

In simplistic terms figurative language is using words in a unique way to make writing more interesting and enjoyable. There are several forms of figuarative language and each are used for specific purposes. Most authors use figurative language to entice their readers but also to help create a more interesting format. Poetry is one writing style that allows increased use of figurative language. Fantasy writing is another. Listed below are several examples of figurative language, their definitions and an example of each.

Simile-the words like or as are used to compare two unlike objects The cookies were as hard as rocks.

Metaphor - two unlike objects are compared without the words like or as  This homework is a breeze.

Onomatopoeia-words make the sounds that they say buzz, buzz; drip, drop; plip, plop; quack, quack; beep, beep; rah, rah

Personification - Nonhuman things are given human qualities The worm wiggled his ten little toes down the street to the bakery. The old house groaned under the weight of the wind.

Idiom- A saying that is out of the ordinary or of no real meaning Break a leg or The cat's out of the bag

Alliteration-Repetition of the same intial sound like tongue twisters. Rubber baby buggy bumpers

Hyperbole-an exaggeration of something Tall tales are an example of hyperbole. I am so hungry I could eat a horse. or His brain is the size of a pea.

mkcapen1 | Student

In literature figurative language is basically using figures of speech to express meaning or relationship within the writing.  It is a manner of expressing something without using the exact literal meaning of the words.  Robert Frost wrote:

 "All the world's a stage"

In the line he is using the world and stage to demonstrate the roles we play in life.  The world is not a physical stage.  The first figure we see in the poem is the world and the second is the stage.  Both figures represent the same thing.

Figurative language includes the use of:

  • Metaphor- comparing two unlike things
  • Simile-two things are compared using words such as like, as, than, as if
  • Symbol-an object that represents something else, more abstract
  • Personification-applying human attributes to something that is not human
  • Apostrophe-giving life to something that is not living
  • Synecdoche-uses a single thing as a collective whole such as "All hands on deck"
  • Metonymy -using something to convey the actual thing by using something closely related to it
  • Allegory or Parable- a narrative poem or story
  • Paradox- an event or words that have contradictory meaning
  • Hyperbole-an over statement of the truth
  • Understatement -understating something to place emphasis on it
  • Irony - contradiction of he topic