Figurative Language Glossary

by Nynke Passi


A Magical Life, Christine Chalmers

Image—A picture in words; a word or sequence of words that refers to any sensory experience (having to do with sight, hearing, touch, taste, or scent).

  • The Autumn wind blows the rust-red scarf back from her face.
  • The brown, withered leaves rustle about our feet as we stamp around in our green plastic boots.
  • I plunge my soft hand into the porcelain bowl of ice cold water.
  • A green-feathered hummingbird hovers in mid-air, its wings beating fast.

Simile—A comparison of two things, indicated by some connective (usually like, as, than, or a verb such as resembles). It usually only refers to one characteristic that two things may have in common.

  • Like a long-legged fly upon the stream/his mind moves upon silence.
  • Our headlights caught, as in a flashbulb’s flare,/a pair of hitchhikers.
  • The skin prickles, outraged as a cactus at this cold.
  • The birds on the power lines resemble musical notes.
  • I am as tired as the seams of my grandfather’s old fishing trousers.
  • Curtains lift and fall like the chest of someone sleeping.
  • I wear my patience like a light green dress, and wear it thin.

Su Blackwell

Metaphor—A statement that one thing IS something else, which, in a literal sense, it is not; a comparison that omits the connective. A metaphor is not limited in the number of resemblances it might indicate; in fact, the best metaphors work on several or many levels.

  • All the world’s a stage,/and all the men and women merely players.
  • The fog comes on little cat feet.
  • I slept as never before, a stone on a river bed.
  • I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
  • When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces.
  • My love has thorns! (Implied metaphor)

Personification—An image that attributes human characteristics to an inanimate object.

  • The wind stood up and gave a shout.
  • The eagle clasps the crag with crooked hands.
  • The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.
ViaAdele P

Via Adele P

Transferred Epithet—An image or phrase that attributes a quality that belongs with one thing (usually a person) to another (usually an object) for reasons of poetic complexity and surprise.

  • Lonely lands. (The land is not lonely; a person in it might be.)
  • Snake-lying tale. (A tale cannot lie, but the person telling it might.)

Symbol–An image that stands for something bigger, representing an idea, an absolute truth or a intangible reality, a process, a feeling, or something else that does not have material existence. The word “symbol” derives from the Latin symbolum, a symbol of faith, and symbolus, a sign of recognition. In turn it comes from classical Greek συμβόλων or symbolon, an object cut in half constituting a sign of recognition when the carriers were able to reassemble the two halves. In ancient Greece, the symbolon, was a shard of pottery which was inscribed and then broken into two pieces which were given to the ambassadors from two allied city states as a record of the alliance. Literature is full of symbols, which convey deeper meaning. Some symbols have universal meaning (sunrise representing a new beginning, a stream the passing of time, water consciousness, blossom spring, etc.). Other symbols have individual meaning attributed to the image by the writer. More information and examples here, on Literary World Blogspot: Literary World Blogspot, Symbols in Literature

Jessie Chorley

Jessie Chorley


Mixed Metaphor–Jumbling together two or more metaphoric images that don’t go together, often in an illogical manner. Mixed metaphors lack clarity because they move in too many directions at once. They confuse the mind of the reader and don’t quite hit home. succession of incongruous or ludicrous comparisons. Mixed metaphors are often composed of cliches or over-used, stale expressions.

  • Water the spark of knowledge and it will bear fruit.
  • We want a knock-your-socks out website that will teach anyone’s mind’s eye to play it by ear!
  • Her oral writing is not very strong; she’s not the sharpest cookie in the jar.
  • Once you open a can of worms, they always come home to roost!
  • We’re treading on thin water. This is a really hard bubble to crack.
  • Let’s use the tip of the iceberg as a first stepping stone. Or is that putting the chicken before the cart?
  • “All at once he was alone in this noisy hive with no place to roost.” (Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities)
  • “Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military’s barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.” (Frank Rich, The New York Times, July 18, 2008)