Have you ever encountered English phrases that seem peculiar or don’t make literal sense? Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon some of the common figures of speech used in the English language.
The English language can be written and spoken in two ways. You can use it literally and figuratively just like the other known languages in the world. Literal language means using the real definition and meaning, while figurative language should be viewed depending on the words and phrases overall context.
If you want to know more about the latter usage of the English language, then read on and discover how you can make your English more profound and more creative.
Exploring Common Figures of Speech in English: Definitions and Examples
The usage of figures of speech sprang from the need to deliver a more stylized and more in-depth meaning to English words and phrases. And though famous authors have commonly used them in history, these phrases have dramatically become a part of casual conversations. Let’s see the most common figures of speech used in English.
A simile is a figure of speech that uses specific words such as “as” and “like” to compare two things that possess nothing in common. Similes are often used to highlight the dramatic nature of a content piece and to invoke vivid comparisons and images in our minds. It’s also worth noting that it is one of the most common figures of speech we use on a daily basis.
Here are some examples:
- The warrior is as brave as a lion.
- The thief moves quite like lightning.
- The new building in town is as tall as a mountain.
- Dianne is the only daughter of her parents, and she’s precious like diamonds to them.
- The boss thinks that the new employee has a brain like Albert Einstein.
A metaphor is quite similar to a simile. You can use it to compare two unlikely things. It also doesn’t use the words “like” and “as.” If you take the literal meaning of the terms and phrases, you might find it absurd.
Here are some examples along with the real meaning of the words:
- The cat’s new couch is a marshmallow. (it means that the couch is soft or comfortable)
- The project launch date is just around the corner, so the team is a worker bee today. (it means everyone is busy)
- James was a brick wall and wouldn’t listen to his parent’s advice. (it means that James is not interested in whatever his parents are saying)
- Solving math problems is a walk in the park for Matthew. (it means that Matthew can easily solve math problems)
- The room has become the Sahara Desert since the technicians removed the broken air conditioner. (it means that it is hot in the room)
- This day is like a roller coaster; I got fired and evicted from my flat. (it means a bad day)
Personification is a figure of speech wherein we personify non-human entities or things as humans. We give inanimate objects or ideas some human qualities such as gestures or emotions, and even speech. Like metaphor, the concept would appear complicated if you take its literal meaning.
Here are some examples:
- The truck died in the middle of a deserted road.
- John chose to drink all night instead of finishing his project, so time ran away.
- The trees are dancing with the wind.
- The clouds cried as the nation buried the assassinated president.
- The walls are keeping their secrets.
In the Greek language, hyperbole means “excess.” This figure of speech is used to exaggerate things to emphasize their quality. They are often used to evoke a strong impression.
- The old man who lives by the forest is older than the hills.
- “I’ve told you for the millionth time to take the trash out!”
- “Oh, I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant!”
- “I will move mountains for you if you’ll marry me today.”
- The champion runner is faster than the wind.
Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech where phrases aim to evoke more imagery through sounds. It often involves all of our senses and imitates the person’s or object’s sounds.
Here are some examples:
- The bee buzzed near my ear.
- I closed the door with a thud.
- The floor squeak as I walk on.
- My cell phone keeps on beeping while I am in the subway.
- The building collapsed with a nerve-wracking boom.
An idiom is a group of words that have a figurative meaning. The real meaning of the phrases is far from the literal meaning of the words. If you wouldn’t familiarize yourself with idiomatic expressions, you’d surely frown or raise your eyebrows once you’ve encountered one. With over 25 000 idioms in the English language, you definitely should be looking at this one.
Here are some of the most commonly used idioms in English:
- “There are ATMs and a pharmacy in that building, so if we go inside, we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone.”
- “Show me that you’ve changed. Action speaks louder than words.”
- “I’ve already admitted that it’s my fault. Please don’t add insult to my injury.”
- “I don’t know what you are talking about! You are barking at the wrong tree!”
- Ever since Jane agreed to go out with Scott, he is always on cloud nine.
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses two words with contrasting meanings in a single context.
Here are some examples:
- “I couldn’t stand the deafening silence in the room.”
- The farewell reception has magical arrangements.
- “I have to watch my meals as my uniforms are growing smaller.”
- “I had to leave. It’s the only choice I had back then.”
- It’s an open secret that John and Grace are processing their divorce.
The Importance of Learning Figurative Language
Most native English speakers use figurative language in their daily conversations, even if they are talking to children or ESL learners. To communicate effectively and not be left in the dark, one has to dedicate time and effort to learning figures of speech.
Here are the top benefits of doing so:
You are likely learning English to be able to communicate intelligently and effectively. Perhaps you are fully aware that being fluent in using the universal language takes time, dedication, and effort. You know you just can’t stop on the basics since there are many complicated things and concepts that make up the English language, and figurative language is one.
Improve your comprehension.
Figures of speech are also being used in TV shows, films, and music. Wherever you go, there is always a chance that you’ll encounter these words and phrases. Learning to grasp the real meaning will not only improve your comprehension but can also enhance your creativity and imagination.
Make communication more poetic and beautiful.
The use of figures of speech, no doubt, makes the language more colorful, more beautiful, and more vivid. It also evokes a poetic style in writing and speaking that cannot be conveyed in any other way. Also, it’s always better to converse with someone who can create a compelling picture using only words and phrases.
Make your idea easier to visualize.
Figures of speech make concepts easier to visualize and comprehend. It helps clarify abstract ideas and emotions by using more compelling arguments and narratives.
Generally, the common figures of speech used in English aim to add color and texture to your writing and not change it significantly. It also allows you to delve into a rich cultural tradition and express your complicated ideas in a short but meaningful space.