What Is a Figure of Speech?

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  • 0:01 What Is Figure of Speech?
  • 1:29 Types of Figure of Speech
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define figure of speech and explain why it is important in your writing. After this definition, we will examine the more common figure of speeches and look at some examples.

What Is Figure of Speech?

We spend our days communicating. When you wake up in the morning, you probably check your email or social media. From there, you may have a conversation with your spouse, coworker, or friend. Midday, you may take a phone call or send a text message. In the evening, you may relax by watching television, perhaps even listening to a speech or debate. All of these are types of communication, and they all rely on language.

But what makes language unique and memorable? Often what we remember is the words and descriptions people use. Part of what makes a language memorable is the use of different figures of speech.

What is a figure of speech? A figure of speech is an expression in which the words are not used in their literal sense. For example, if there is a storm outside and you say, 'It is raining cats and dogs,' you do not mean this literally. There are no cats and dogs falling from the sky, but you want to create an image of heavy rain.

When you use a figure of speech in your writing, you are not only giving a more detailed description but making your writing more memorable and vivid. You have probably used figures of speech in your writing or conversations without even realizing it. While there are many different kinds of figures of speech, we will look more closely at the more common ones.

Types of Figure of Speech

A metaphor is a figure of speech where a comparison is made between two unlike things. While the two unlike things look like they have nothing in common, they actually do. You may use a metaphor to connect the comparison to the audience and make it more memorable. For example, if I was to say, 'That person has a heart of darkness,' you would be able to visualize a heart that is black and dark. The description of the person becomes more memorable for you. Some other examples of popular metaphors are: 'a heart of gold,' 'bad apple,' or 'you reap what you sow.'

A simile is a figure of speech where two unlike things are compared using 'like' or 'as.' You may use a simile to explain a relationship or to make your writing more vivid and descriptive. For example, if an author wanted to describe food as bland, he or she could create a more vivid description by writing, 'The chicken is dry like sawdust.' As a reader, you would have a clearer idea of the taste of the chicken. Some popular similes that you may already be familiar are: 'busy as a bee,' 'as blind as a bat,' or 'clean as a whistle.'

Personification is a figure of speech where human characteristics are given to something nonhuman. You would use personification to create imagery or even to set the mood of your paper by creating emotions. For example, you could write, 'The dog danced with joy when he was adopted from the shelter.' Dancing is a human characteristic that is usually seen as joyous or fun. By describing the dog as dancing, we can picture a happy scene and a very happy animal. Some popular personification phrases that you may already have heard are: 'opportunity knocks,' 'time marches to its own beat,' or 'flew off the shelves.'

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