In this lesson, we will discuss how to interpret figurative language in fiction. We will explore several types of figurative language and learn how to identify them.
What Is Figurative Language?
Which of the following descriptions do you prefer?The purring black and white cat sat by the glowing fire.The fuzzy, furry, friendly, fat black and white cat was purring like a motorboat as she sat beside the fire, which snapped and crackled as its sparks danced and played, traveling upwards to the black hole of the chimney and disappearing as they were sucked in.Did you choose the second description? If so, you were probably attracted to its figurative language.
Figurative language makes a piece of writing more vivid and interesting because it uses expressions and words in a way that goes beyond their actual, normal meaning. Figurative language draws readers into a story and invites them to play with language and search for meanings that are hidden beneath the surface of a text.
Types of Figurative Language
Readers encounter many different types of figurative language in a work of fiction. Here are just a few:
- A simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to draw a comparison between two things that are not particularly similar and to suggest a hidden likeness. A cat purring like a motorboat is an example of a simile.
- A metaphor is also a comparison between two dissimilar things, but it paints a verbal picture instead of using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ A comparison between a chimney and a black hole is a metaphor.
- Personification gives animals or inanimate objects human qualities or characteristics.
Sparks are personified when they are portrayed as dancing and playing.
- In onomatopoeia, words imitate sounds. For instance, the phrase ‘the fire snapped and crackled’ invites readers to remember the sound of a cozy fire.
- Alliteration repeats consonant or vowel sounds, usually at the beginnings of words. The fuzzy, furry, friendly, fat cat repeats the ‘f’ sound to tickle readers’ ears and focuses their attention in a special way on the cat’s characteristics.
- Hyperbole is an overstatement or exaggeration. It is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for dramatic effect. A surprised child, for instance, might have eyes as wide as dinner plates, and a hungry man might feel like he could eat a whole herd of cows.
Practice in Figurative Language
Let’s practice identifying figurative language.
Listen to each of the following sentences, and label it as simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, alliteration, or hyperbole (see the video beginning at 03:14 to hear the following sentences).1. I was so excited that I jumped up and touched the moon. Did you say ‘hyperbole’? If so, you’re right!2. Boom! The clap of thunder made everyone jump. This is an example of onomatopoeia because the word ‘boom’ imitates the sound of a thunderclap.3.
Her eyes were like dark pools. Did you get this one? It’s a simile that compares eyes to dark pools using the word ‘like.’4. You are such a wet blanket at parties! This is a metaphor.
It compares the party-goer to a wet blanket; apparently he is not much fun at parties.5. We heard the sweet, soft sound of her slippers sliding on the sidewalk. Did you catch the repeated ‘s’ sound at the beginning of several words? This is alliteration.
6. The wind howled wildly as it prowled through the trees. The wind here is personified when it is described as howling and prowling.
Let’s review. Figurative language makes a piece of writing more vivid and interesting because it uses expressions and words in a way that goes beyond their actual, normal meaning.Readers often encounter many types of figurative language in fiction works.
A simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to draw a comparison between two things that are not particularly similar. A metaphor paints a verbal picture to compare two dissimilar things. Personification gives animals or inanimate objects human qualities or characteristics. In onomatopoeia, words imitate sounds.
Alliteration repeats consonant or vowel sounds, usually at the beginnings of words. Hyperbole is an overstatement or exaggeration.Now that you can identify these common types of figurative language, see if you can pick them out in the stories and books that you read. If you can, you might just find yourself as contented as that furry, purring cat.
Once you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Identify the purpose of figurative language
- Describe the types of figurative language in fiction