What is Figure of Speech? Definition, Examples of Figures of Speech

Figure of speech definition: Figure of speech is the use of language to add richness to the literal meaning of words.

Common Figures of Speech

Here are some common figures of speech:

Metaphor: A metaphor is the comparison of two unlike things without the use of like or as.

  • The boy was a wild animal in the toy store, for he reckless grabbed at every toy he saw.
    • In this sentence, we have the metaphor “boy was a wild animal”. The boy is being compared to a wild animal because of his behavior in the store.

Simile: A simile is the comparison between two unlike things using such words as like, as, or so.

  • The boy was like a ninja as he snuck downstairs to see Santa on Christmas Eve.
    • In this sentence, we have the simile “boy was like a ninja”. The young boy’s stealthy behavior is being compared to that of a ninja. It is a simile rather than a metaphor because the word “like” was included.

Hyperbole: A hyperbole is an over exaggeration.

  • After swimming all day, Ashley was as hungry as a hippo.
    • In this example, the hyperbole is the over exaggeration of hunger that Ashley has after her day of swimming, for she is not literally as hungry as a hippo.

Personification: Personification is when human traits are given to anything nonhuman.

  • The sun smiled upon her as she walked to the mailbox.
    • Here, the sun is being given the human trait of smiling.

The Function of Figures of Speech

The purpose of using figures of speech is to add richness to writing that will have an effect on the reader. By using these comparisons, it allows the reader to have a greater understanding and ability to imagine the situations being described in the writing.

How Figures of Speech are Used in Literature

Here are some examples of figures of speech in literature:

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, he uses a metaphor in the famous balcony scene. Romeo exclaims, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east and Juliet is the sun”.

  • “Juliet is the sun” = metaphor
  • This metaphor is used to emphasis the overwhelming brightness of Juliet’s beauty.

In James Hurst’s short story The Scarlet Ibis, he uses a simile to set the somber mood at the beginning of the story, “the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle”.

  • “Oriole nest…rocked back and forth like an empty cradle” = simile
  • This simile is used to create a somber mood by comparing the movement of the nest to that of an empty cradle, which has a negative connotation associated with it.

The Scarlet Ibis also includes examples of hyperbole. Hurst writes, “We danced together quite well until she came down on my big toe with her brogans, hurting me so badly I thought I was crippled for life”.

  • “hurting me so badly I thought I was crippled for life” = hyperbole
  • This hyperbole is used to exaggerate the pain felt by the young child when his aunt stepped on his toe while dancing.

In Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat series, personification is used with the starring character, Pete. In the book I Love My White Shoes, he writes, “Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! He kept walking along and singing his song”.

  • In this example, a cat is given human traits such as singing. Many children’s book employ personification due to the inclusion of nonhuman characters.

Summary: What Does Figure of Speech Mean?

Define figure of speech mean? In summation, figures of speech are used to add richness and imagery to a work of literature in order to achieve an effect for the reader.

Final example,

In Pat Mora’s poem “Old Snake”, it states “Leave / those doubts and hurts / buzzing like flies in your ears”.

  • “doubts and hurts / buzzing like flies in your ears” = simile

This simile is used to compare the left behind worries to just a buzz in the ear like a fly. A comparison to a fly is used because flies are often seen as an annoyance just like having constant doubt or worry.