Types of Symbolism & Figurative Language

Symbolism and figurative language provide a depth to writing that reliance on straightforward expression cannot. These types of literary devices allow the writer to move beyond using prose merely for the transmission of facts. Using symbolism and figurative language brings prose closer to poetic expression and provides the opportunity to deliver information on multiple levels that can be understand by multiple levels of educational awareness.


A simile is a figurative language device that allows one object to be compared with another by using the term “like” or “as.” The use of those words to compare two objects can only be termed a simile when the objects are essentially unlike each other. For instance, "The horse raced like the wind."


Metaphor allows language to be used to directly identify one object with another without using “like” or “as.” The same rules of dissimilarity that apply to simile also apply to metaphor, and the primary difference between these two kinds of figurative language is the directness of metaphor. For instance, "My beloved is the red balloon that lifts my heart."


Personification is a very commonly used form of symbolism that applies human attributes to inhuman objects. Personification can give human form and sensibilities to anything from an animal to a chair to an abstract concept like hate or pride.


Allegory is simply a form of figurative language that is essentially an extended metaphor. The characters in an allegory are metaphorical personifications of abstract qualities or else are metaphorical representations of someone else. The purpose of allegory is to create a dual meaning for everything in the story.


Hyperbole is a symbolic figure of speech that uses conscious exaggeration to make a point. The point made by hyperbole can be either serious or comic. Hyperbole is commonly and often unconsciously used in every speech via statements such as "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."


When you hear a news broadcaster say that the White House had no comment or refer to a king or queen as the Crown, you are hearing a figurative form of language known as metonymy. This symbolic form of speech substitutes a term closely associated with an entity for the name of the entity itself.


Archetypes are a form of symbolic representation of collectively held concepts that are shared by all humanity as a result of common experiences repeated throughout different cultures--stereotypical images invested with mythic proportions that range from the Jester or Clown to the Wise Guide or Teacher.


Irony is a figurative form of speech in which the intended meaning is opposite to the literal meaning of the words expressed. In the theater, dramatic irony refers to a situation where the audience possesses knowledge not held by the characters.

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