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How to Identify the Type of Figurative Language Used in a Poem


Figurative language is used in poetry and fiction to create more vivid imagery and to add a layer of meaning to the text. Figurative language can be used to express an idea or an emotion that can't quite be summed up in a simple description. However, it can be difficult for some people to identify figurative language such as simile, metaphor, symbol or hyperbole in the text. Understanding the key elements of each type of figurative language can make the techniques easier to identify.

Find Connecting Words

Simile and metaphor are two of the most common types of figurative language, and they both use connecting words, which makes them a little easier to identify. Look for the words "like" or "as" to find a simile, and look for the word "is" to find a metaphor. When you see those words, take a step back and look at what they are connecting. If two things are being compared, you might have a simile or a metaphor. For example, a simile might say "Her eyes shined like the stars," while a metaphor would say "Her eyes were the stars."

Analyze Verbs and Adjectives

Personification assigns human characteristics to inanimate objects, such as saying that "The refrigerator whined its complaint" or "The couch sighed under its heavy load." You can identify personification by analyzing the verbs and adjectives in the piece. Look for action words that are associated with human behaviors, such as "cry," "argue" or "dance." Then look for descriptive words that are associated with human traits, such as "stoic," "manipulative" or "disconsolate." Those types of words are red flags to look at a sentence more closely. If the words are linked to inanimate objects or animals, you may be looking at an example of personification.

Look for a Second Meaning

Symbols and some metaphors are not always obvious on their surface. Identifying them requires a close reading of the text. Seemingly unassuming items like a rose bush on a barren lawn or a strand of hair on a pillow can be symbolic, depending on the context. Read through the passage or the poem and ask yourself whether any of the scenes, items being described or bits of dialogue have a second meaning. You will soon discover the hidden symbolism.

Flag Superlatives

Hyperbole is an extreme statement. It can be a direct statement in a narrative passage or line of dialogue, or it can be an exaggeration in a description. You can identify hyperbole by looking for superlatives, such as "most," "best" or "worst." Sometimes, these words may be implied in other words. For example, instead of saying that "She was the most beautiful woman," a passage may instead say "Her beauty was beyond compare." Flag any words that indicate an extreme and look closer at the passage to see if you're dealing with hyperbole.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.