Writers use figurative language for descriptive effect, according to Kayla Nabholz of Arkansas Tech University
. It is not used in a strictly literal sense. In fact, as you might remember from our earlier post A Guide to Meaning: Figurative, Connotative, & Technical | TASC
, the opposite of figurative language is literal language. As Nabholz notes, “Many common, everyday expressions are figurative, and when used imaginatively, this language can add a special dimension of meaning to both speech and writing.”
You probably use figurative language on a regular basis. Phrases like “I love you like crazy” and “You are green with envy” are figurative. Sometimes, you may hear such phrases described as metaphorical language – but metaphor is only one type of figurative language.
We discussed metaphor and simile in our previous post. However, we want to give you more information about figurative language because it is an essential component of writing. As you prepare to take the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ Reading subtest, you can improve your reading skills and better understand context by learning about figurative language. Figurative language can help you understand an author’s writing in a more complex way.
Once you have familiarized yourself with metaphor and simile, start to work with personification. When an author uses personification, he or she is giving an animal, object, or idea a human form or characteristic. An easy way to remember this figure of speech is to know that the writing describes something as being “person-like.”
“When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath”
is a type of exaggeration, and it is usually extreme. It may be helpful to know that the word hyperbole comes from the Greek
, meaning “over-casting.” This type of figurative language attracts attention, especially in spoken language. It can also be used to emphasize a point or create an effect.
You often use hyperbole when you say things like “I’m too tired to function” or “I’ve told you a million times.” Literary examples include:
“I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity.”
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry”
- H. Auden
This literary device can be more complex to find in a passage than the other types of figurative language. According to the educators on the English Language Learners’ site Really Learn English
, irony is “when someone says or does something, but means another thing or intends for something else to happen.” It may also be that a situation may develop in a different way than the reader anticipated. You can remember irony as simply the difference between appearance and reality.
There are three types of irony
- Verbal irony
- Dramatic irony
- Situational irony
An author may convey irony through dialogue. As a reader, pay close attention to the characters and their interactions to decide whether or not they are being sincere within the reading.