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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You have asked what figures of speech are, and that is a big question. Generally, figures of speech are groups of words that we do not take to mean what they say. That probably sounds odd, but think about this expression: It is raining cats and dogs. When someone says this, do you look outside to see if there are dogs and cats falling down from the sky?  Of course not! You understand that to mean that it is raining very hard.  That is an example of one kind of figure of speech.

Another example is called a simile. A simile is a kind of comparison.  If you say something like, "My brother is like a dog," everyone understands that your brother is not running around on four feet with fur all over him. You are trying to explain something about your brother, something negative, I would guess, and the words do not mean exactly what they say.

Another kind of figure of speech is the metaphor. In a metaphor, there is no comparison made.  You are simply saying one thing is another. One example is the name of an old song from the Sixties, "I am a Rock."  The singer is clearly not a rock, but he is trying to say something about himself that involves some quality that is like a rock.

There are many other kinds of figures of speech, but I hope this is enough to get you started on understanding the idea.  When you are asked to analyze figures of speech from a specific story or essay, we can certainly help you further.  Good luck!