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What's the Purpose of Figurative Language?


Figurative language plays a major role in compelling literary works. Figurative language is a contrast to literal language. Its primary purpose is to force readers to imagine or intuit what an author means with an expression or statement. Multiple literary devices and elements are commonly used in the category of figurative language.

Figurative Elements

The use of multiple types of elements adds to the strength, depth and quality of figurative language through a literary work. Metaphors, similes, analogies, hyperbole, symbolism, personification, allusion, imagery and rhyme are all common figurative language elements. Applying the right element in making specific points in writing is necessary to make figurative language work. Regardless of the tool, figurative language strengthens or makes a point more compelling and effective.

Metaphors, Similes and Analogies

Metaphors, similes and analogies are often used in similar ways. Rather than simply making a statement about a person, place or thing, these tools allow you to make the point by comparing one thing to another. In the metaphor "Jill is the rock of her family," the character Jill is compared to a rock to emphasize her strength and fortitude. The author takes this approach as opposed to simply stating "Jill is a stable and supportive influence in her family," which is more literal, but also less impactful.

Expanding Meaning

Some figurative language is used to expand beyond the literal narrative in the story. Hyperbole is a grossly exaggerated or excessive claim. Symbolism is used to present a moral lesson or broader point by having a noun in the story represent something beyond the story. Personification is used to give human qualities to an object or animal. For example, "the clouds cried with empathy toward her loss" is a human-like way to describe rainfall. Allusion is simply referring to something outside the narrative, such as a reference to a historical event.

Creative Additions

In creative works, some figurative language tools simply increase the creativity of the writing. Imagery is one of the simpler elements to understand. It is the use of descriptive, expressive language to give the reader a mental image. "The Sun beamed brightly down on the couple as they embraced" is an example. Rhyme is a figurative element commonly used in children's books. Dr. Suess' books routinely use rhyming to add flow and intrigue to stories.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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