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Figurative Language

Here is all of the figurative language we have covered so far: 

Figurative Language Games:

Personification   Metaphor  Hyperbole  Alliteration  Simile

Oxymoron Definition

Oxymoron, plural oxymora, is a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect. The common oxymoron phrase is a combination of an adjective proceeded by a noun with contrasting meanings e.g. “cruel kindness” or “living death”. However, the contrasting words/phrases are not always glued together. The contrasting ideas may be spaced out in a sentence e.g. “In order to lead, you must walk behind.”

Common Examples of Oxymoron

  • Open secret
  • Tragic comedy
  • Seriously funny
  • Awfully pretty
  • Foolish wisdom
  • Original copies
  • Liquid gas


Hyperbole is when the writer or speaker exaggerates for emphasis or effect.Etymologically, “hyper” translates roughly to “over” and “bole” translates roughly to “throw.” So the word “hyperbole” means to overthrow or to go over.  Other forms of hyperbole includehyperbolic (adjective) and hyperbolically (adverb).  One way to help students rememberhyperbole is to focus on their background knowledge of the word “hyper.” Ask students to describe the behavior of someone who might be considered hyper. Show students that when someone is hyper, they might be doing a little too much. Draw the connection that when someone uses hyperbole, they are going too far.

Examples of hyperbole:

1. Yeah, I already beat that game 80,000 years ago.
2.  Nobody listens to that song anymore.
3.  Old Mr. Johnson has been teaching here since the Stone Age.
4.  Forget knocking it out of the park, Frank can knock a baseball off the continent.
5.  These shoes are killing me.


Idioms are commonly used figurative expressions. Idiom is not a distinct figurative language technique. Rather, most idioms are similes, metaphors, hyperbole, or other figurative language techniques. For example, the idiom “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse,” is actually an example of hyperbole. And the idiom, “dropping like flies,” is actually a simile. What separates an idiom from its original technique, however, is that idioms have been so commonly used that they became incorporated into the colloquial lexicon of native language speakers. In other words, native speakers use them so much that they don’t even know that they are using figurative language.

Here are some idiom examples:

1. Bob’s new corner office was just the icing on the cake (metaphor).
2. After eating candy, Billy ran around like a chicken with his head cut off (simile).
3. The quarter back was running out of steam (metaphor).
4. That new car cost an arm and a leg (hyperbole).
5. Tom said that he changed but actions speak louder than words (personification).


Metaphor is a comparison between two dissimilar things without using the word “like” or “as” to make the comparison. It’s been said that the greater the difference between the two things being compared, the better the metaphor, and this is a notion with which I agree.  For example, when asked to create a metaphor, a student of mine once wrote, “Football is baseball.” Though this is arguably a metaphor, it generally would not be regarded as a very good one because the objects of comparison are too similar. “Football is chess” would be an improvement, because the objects of comparison are more dissimilar.

Here are some example metaphors:

1.  The cast on Michael’s broken leg was a plaster shackle.
2.  She was just a trophy to Ricardo, another object to possess.
3.  The path of resentment is easier to travel than the road to forgiveness.
4.  Waves of spam emails inundated his inbox.
5.  Her eyes were fireflies.


Personification is when the speaker or writer gives human characteristics, qualities, or traits to an object or idea. In other words, an object or idea is described by the speaker or writer in a way that could only be applied literally to a person.  To put it even simpler, personification is when an object or idea does something that only people do.  

Here are some examples of personification:
1. Thunder grumbled and raindrops reported for duty.
2. The moon turned over to face the day.
3. One unhappy icicle wasted away in the day.
4. The traffic noises argued long into the night and finally Cal went to sleep.
5. The angry storm pounded the tin shelter.


Similes are comparisons between two unlike things using the word “like” or “as.”Similes sometimes form the building blocks of analogies (extended comparisons) and they are commonly used in both speech and literature.  Because of the signal words “like” and “as,” students are usually able to identify similes with greater efficacy than other figurative language techniques such as metaphor or personification.  However, students should be made aware that just because the speaker or writer uses the word “like” or “as,” does not automatically mean that they are using a simile.  This is because “like” and “as” have other roles in the English language besides making comparisons, such as when the speaker or writer expresses a preference for something.  In the statement, “I like pizza,” no comparison is being made; the speaker merely expresses a preference.  My point is that while “like” and “as” can be helpful signal words, in a simile a comparison must be made.

Here are some examples of simile:

1. My mother’s kitchen was like a holy place: you couldn’t wear your shoes, you had to sit there at a certain time, and occasionally we’d pray.
2. The bottle rolled off the table like a teardrop.
3. The handshake felt like warm laundry.
4. She hung her head like a dying flower.
5. Arguing with her was like dueling with hand grenades.