We use many types of figures of speech almost every day
The English language is rich with literal and figurative language. But what is a figure of speech?
It is a rhetorical device, which a writer or speaker deliberately uses to create an implied comparison with a word or phrase.
A common figure of speech often uses an inanimate object. It uses words to convey a figurative instead of a literal meaning.
I am sure you know the expression, all the world’s a stage by William Shakespeare.
The world is not literally a stage where plays are performed by men and women. But Shakespeare uses the word stage to give an abstract meaning to how we all live and behave in our world.
We use thousands of figurative expressions in our everyday language.
Figures of speech examples
We often use an inanimate object as an implied comparison in a figure of speech. It helps to create emphasis. For example, “It’s raining cats and dogs” and “I’ll give you a hand.”
There are no animals falling from the sky. And you would not chop off your hand with an axe to give it to someone. Both of these expressions are a play on words.
These two figurative language phrases literally mean that it is raining very heavily and I’ll gladly assist you.
If you are a writer or an author, you are using words and expressions both literally and figuratively all the time.
You might be trying to create verbal irony, express human qualities or add colour to your text. The most common literary devices are metaphors and similes. These are both well-known figurative expressions.
Another type of figurative form uses word order repetition or similar successive clauses, such as, “In the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Other rhetorical devices can use a chiasmus, where the second part of the expression is balanced against the first. For example, “you should work to live, not live to work.”
Exaggeration, or hyperbole in literary terms, can quickly turn a word or phrase from literal language into figurative. “I have a million things to do at the office today”, or, “it cost me an arm and a leg.”
The opposite, of course, is an understatement. “It’s only a scratch” when referring to a deep or nasty wound. Or, “It’s a little fresh today” when the temperature is well below zero. Or, “Tiger Woods was a half-decent golf player in his prime.”
Other figures of speech examples include euphemisms.
They are very common forms of saying something in a way that is more polite or not as blunt or direct. He passed away instead of he died. I’m going to let you go to replace you’re fired. Or, it fell off the back of a truck, when in fact, it was stolen.
Some expressions use alliteration. This is where a consonant sound is repeated. Examples include, “I’m as busy as a bee” and “It’s as dead as a doornail or dodo.”
One of my pet sources of idioms and expressions is from my favourite sport – cricket. “To be hit for six”, “to be caught on a sticky wicket”, “to be stumped”, “I did it off my own bat”, “to be caught out” and “to bowl a maiden over.” I love the last one.
I am sure you know all this. I don’t need to remind you about idiomatic speech. It is when we use a phrase with an object to create an implied or abstract meaning.
More reading: What are the 20 most common grammar mistakes?
I know you know, but before you disappear off into the ether …
How good is your knowledge of figures of speech?
Here is a fun challenge for you to test your knowledge of idiomatic and figurative speech.
Ella has illustrated twenty-seven figurative language terms. They are a mixture of metaphors and similes. I wonder if you can identify all of them.
At first glance, it looks like an easy puzzle to solve. But once you get past identifying the first ten to fifteen idioms, it gets a little more difficult. She has been very cunning indeed. Perhaps, as cunning as a fox.
A figure of speech cartoon by Ella Baron
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an answer list for each of the 27 figures of speech examples represented in the cartoon. Perhaps Ella prefers to play her cards close to her chest, and leave a little mystery by keeping an ace up her sleeve.
I got as far as identifying twenty or so from the picture but then ran into trouble. Maybe you can do better than me and find all twenty-seven of them.
I don’t want to give you a red herring or spill the beans. So I will leave you to it. I’m sure it will be a piece of cake.
Can you solve the puzzle?
If you manage to find the five or so that I have missed, please let me know by adding your comment to put me out of my misery. Don’t get cold feet!
Do it quickly though, before I kick the bucket. You know how quickly time flies.
Yes, I know it is a tough assignment. But well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, can you?
Anyway, I have given you more than enough clues to get you halfway to solving the puzzle. Now it’s up to you.
Are you up to the challenge of finding all 27 examples in the image?
An update to this article
A big thank you to Kim, who posted a comment on this article. She added this link to Ella Barron’s answer on Twitter. In her post, Ella lists all 27 expressions.
However, Ella adds an interesting aside. There could be up to 49 figure of speech expressions captured within in her cartoon. Now, that really is a tease, isn’t it?
Another word puzzle: Do You Know These 18 Weird Words For Everyday Things?
Getting your figure of speech expressions right
If you are a writer, you are using set expressions all the time.
However, you should be careful that you always check your usage and accuracy. There is nothing worse than getting a fixed expression wrong.
We all use some form of free or paid online grammar and spell checking nowadays. These apps are extremely useful. They really are essential tools for writing accuracy, especially for new writers.
But these tools will rarely find an error in use in set phrases. For example, as hard as a brick, as brave as a tiger and laughs like a monkey.
Only your knowledge can tell you that they should be. The correct expressions are, as hard as a rock, as brave as a lion and laugh like a hyena.
The same applies to acronyms and abbreviations. A grammar checker is unlikely to help you differentiate between am and a.m. or SCABA when you mean SCUBA.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a blog post or a book. Always pay close attention when you are editing and proofreading your text.
Yes, you must always check your grammar, spelling and correct your typos. But be sure to double-check your fixed figurative expressions as well to make sure they are correct.
A figure of speech is a word or phrase that you absolutely must get 100% right, 100% of the time.
Related reading: Do you know how to polish your writing?