Figurative Language Versus Literal Language

Topics: Metaphor, Analogy, Simile Pages: 5 (1122 words) Published: July 29, 2012
Figurative Language versus Literal Language


Figurative language is an important part of the English language that allows a person to better express their thoughts. However, some are careless in using figurative language that can cause confusion and misunderstanding. Below are some examples of the most common types of figurative language as well as their examples.


Idioms are common in the English language but may pose problems if someone is not familiar with the idiomatic expression used. Idioms are words that hav a different meaning other than its literal meaning ( One example of idiomatic expression is, “on pins and needles”, which means excited or nervous in anticipation. If someone is unfamiliar with the term and another used it without expounding it, for example, I am on pin and needles until the results come out, the other person might interpret this as a problem.


Analogies provide for better comparison but being unfamiliar with the terms used can cause confusion. Analogies are figures of speech that compares one thing with another, highlighting the similarities between the two ( However, analogies may cause more confusion if the similarities are not distinct and sometimes would sound comical. For example, he was tall as a 6 foot 3 inch tree, only adds to the confusion as it would be uncertain if the speaker is actually giving out the height (


Metaphors are perhaps one of the most common figures of speech used, and using bad metaphors may bring in confusion rather than provide a clear similarity between the two objects being compared. Metaphors are comparisons of two unlike words and highlight the similarities of the two ( “Life is a journey”, for example, when used in its own does not really provide a good comparison rather only states that life is long like a journey.


Similes can provide good comparison between objects but some may sound comical when misused. Similes are different being compared with each other using words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’ ( In a similar example as that of the analogy, “he was tall as a 6 foot 3 inch tree”, this might be interpreted as a remark that ridicules the person described as a 6 foot 3 inch tree is not considered to be very tall.


Clichés are expressions that are commonly used and often been overused in the English language (Nordquist). One of the main problems of clichés being overused is that it essentially loses the right use of the expression and people use them sparingly to sound more intellectual or at the very least poetic. For example, “time flies when you’re having fun” can be confusing if some of the people hearing are not particularly having a good time.


Amphibolies are often used to confuse audiences into thinking that the speaker is saying something that is not (Nordquist). These are grammatical sentences that provide one or two meaning, whether intentionally or not, that can cause confusion. For example an advertisement writes: Furnished Apartments for Rent: 3 rooms, river view, private phone, bath, kitchen, utilities included (Nordquist). Interested party may think that the apartment has its own bath and kitchen when in reality the word private only refers to the phone and the bath and the kitchen is communal (Nordquist).

“Flame Word”

Flame words often trigger emotions and should be used with caution especially when having a conversation with people of different race. Flame words often have different connotation to different people and hearing them may bring out emotions that can escalate to conflict (Kirby, Goodpaster, Levine, 1999, p 88). For example, the word “nigga” brings in racial tensions. Cultures outside the African American communities may see it as slang especially as it is casually used in conversations between African Americans in films and TV portrayals. However,...
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