Figure of Speech: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 The Art of Language
  • 0:32 Figures of Speach
  • 1:38 Types
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will discover how people communicate through figures of speech. You will learn some different types of figures of speech and analyze several examples.

The Art of Language

Language is truly an art form. There are so many variations and intricacies available that can convey several different meanings, all of which come together to serve one main purpose: to communicate. Communication is crucial to the function of our society, and we use many different methods to express meaning. One of the most common methods involves figures of speech. Figures of speech are so common, you most likely use them on a daily basis and don't even notice.

Figures of Speech

Figures of speech are plainly defined as saying one thing in terms of something else. What does that mean? Well, it's simple, actually. Whenever you say something, but you don't mean it literally, you are using a figure of speech. Let's say you are about to head out to the store and your mother says, 'Ya better take a jacket; it's raining cats and dogs out there.'

Does your mom literally mean animals are falling from the sky? Of course not. Her meaning is that it is raining hard outside. So why doesn't she just say, 'Take a jacket. It's raining!' Because figures of speech are meant to clarify and describe in more detail. Rain itself has many different forms. It could be drizzling, sprinkling, misting or even downpouring. Your mother used a figure of speech to clarify that the rain is hard and would probably soak anyone caught in it. Figures of speech are very useful in giving a more detailed and accurate description.

Types of Figures of Speech

There are many different types of figures of speech. Two that are closely related are similes and metaphors. A simile is a comparison between two objects using the words 'like,' 'as,' 'seems' or 'appears.' Look at the following example: 'My dog is like a tornado; she dashes through the house, destroying everything she touches.'

The first part contains the simile: the dog is being compared to a tornado. The second part explains the comparison. The dog is like a tornado because she destroys things wherever she goes. The use of the simile gives a better picture of the dog and adds some color to the description.

A metaphor, then, is a comparison between two objects without using the words listed above. Metaphors are usually stated as one object is another object. Look at the following poem by Emily Dickinson:

'Presentiment - is that long shadow - on the lawn -

Indicative that Suns go down -

The notice to the startled Grass

That Darkness - is about to pass -'

In this poem, Dickinson states that presentiment is a shadow. Is presentiment, which means foreboding or anxiety, literally a shadow? Of course not. Dickinson makes the comparison to give a better description of how anxiety can creep up on a person and cause fear.

Another common figure of speech is a pun. A pun is a manipulating word that has more than one meaning or that sounds like other words. For example: 'I'm reading a book about mazes; I got lost in it.'

The play on words here is the use of the word 'lost.' Getting lost in a good book means the reader is so absorbed in the story that he can hardly take his eyes off the page. The joke in this pun is the reader is looking at a book of mazes, which of course are designed to make the reader get lost. Puns are usually used in a humorous way.

A third type of figure of speech is personification. Personification occurs when the author or speaker gives human characteristics to non-human objects. Personification is similar to similes and metaphors in that it basically compares some inhuman object to a person. For example: 'The trees scream in the raging wind.'

Can trees actually scream? No, that is a human trait. So the use of personification here gives a better description of the sound trees make in strong winds.

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