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Figurative vs. Literal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sara Rehman || Published on February 9, 2024
Figurative language involves imaginative or symbolic use of words for effect, whereas literal language means exactly what it says without embellishment.

Key Differences

Figurative language adds color and imagination to expressions, often using metaphors, similes, and personification. Literal language, in contrast, sticks to the exact, dictionary meanings of words without deviating for effect or emphasis.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024
The purpose of figurative language is to evoke emotions, create vivid imagery, or convey complex ideas in an engaging manner. Literal language aims for clarity and precision, ensuring that the message is understood exactly as intended.
Huma Saeed
Feb 09, 2024
Figurative language is commonly used in creative writing, poetry, and everyday idioms. Literal language is favored in technical writing, legal documents, and situations requiring factual accuracy.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024
Figurative expressions require interpretation and an understanding of context to grasp the implied meaning. Literal expressions are straightforward and do not require interpretation beyond the surface level.
Janet White
Feb 09, 2024
Examples of figurative language include phrases like "heart of stone" or "time is a thief," which are not to be taken literally. Literal language would describe things as they are: "a hard heart" or "time passes."
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024
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Comparison Chart

Meaning

Uses symbols, metaphors, and exaggerations
Means exactly what the words state
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Purpose

To create imagery, emotion, or emphasize
To convey information clearly and precisely
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Context

Often used in poetry, literature, and speech
Used in technical, legal, and factual texts
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Interpretation

Requires understanding of context and culture
Direct and straightforward, no interpretation needed
Aimie Carlson
Feb 09, 2024

Examples

"Break a leg," meaning good luck
"Break a leg," literally fracturing a leg
Harlon Moss
Feb 09, 2024
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Figurative and Literal Definitions

Figurative

Figurative language uses metaphors and comparisons to suggest a resemblance or analogy.
He has a heart of stone.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Literal

Literal language means exactly what it says, adhering to the direct meaning of words.
He has a stone in his shoe.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Figurative

Figurative speech often personifies objects, giving them human-like qualities.
The wind whispered through the trees.
Aimie Carlson
Jan 24, 2024

Literal

It is preferred in contexts where precision and clarity are essential.
Please turn left at the next intersection.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Figurative

It exaggerates or alters the common meanings of words for emphasis or effect.
I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
Harlon Moss
Jan 24, 2024

Literal

It is used to convey facts and information accurately and clearly.
The report is due tomorrow.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Figurative

Figurative expressions are used to evoke emotions and create vivid imagery.
Time is a thief.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Literal

Literal expressions are direct, with no hidden or implied meanings.
The cat is on the mat.
Sara Rehman
Jan 24, 2024

Figurative

It includes idioms and phrases that convey meanings different from their literal interpretation.
It's raining cats and dogs.
Huma Saeed
Jan 24, 2024

Literal

Literal language forms the basis of straightforward communication.
It's raining heavily outside.
Harlon Moss
Jan 24, 2024

Figurative

Based on or making use of figures of speech; metaphorical
Figurative language.
Sara Rehman
Jan 22, 2024

Literal

Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.
Sara Rehman
Jan 22, 2024

Figurative

Containing many figures of speech; ornate.
Sara Rehman
Jan 22, 2024

FAQs

Why use figurative language?

It enhances writing and speech by adding depth, emotion, and imagery.
Aimie Carlson
Feb 09, 2024

How does literal language differ?

Literal language means exactly what it says, with no embellishment or metaphor.
Huma Saeed
Feb 09, 2024

Can figurative language be confusing?

Yes, it can be if the listener or reader isn't familiar with the context or expression.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Is literal language easier to understand?

Generally, yes, because it conveys the exact meaning of words.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Can the same phrase be both figurative and literal?

Yes, depending on the context in which it is used.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Are technical manuals written in literal language?

Yes, for clarity and precision.
Janet White
Feb 09, 2024

Is understanding figurative language a cultural aspect?

Yes, many expressions are culturally specific and require cultural knowledge.
Harlon Moss
Feb 09, 2024

Why is figurative language used in advertising?

To create memorable and persuasive messages.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

What is figurative language?

It's using words in an imaginative way to create a special effect or meaning.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Do children understand figurative language?

They learn it over time; younger children may take things more literally.
Aimie Carlson
Feb 09, 2024

How is literal language used in law?

For exactness and to avoid ambiguity in legal documents and proceedings.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Are idioms considered figurative language?

Yes, idioms are a common form of figurative language.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Can figurative language be found in everyday conversation?

Yes, it's common in daily speech, often through idioms and metaphors.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

How does one identify figurative language?

By looking for exaggerations, comparisons, and non-literal interpretations of phrases.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Is figurative language a sign of language mastery?

It often indicates a higher level of language proficiency and creativity.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Can literal language be creative?

While it's direct, creative uses can be found, especially in clear and concise communication.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Is understanding literal language straightforward?

Usually, as it involves taking words at their face value.
Harlon Moss
Feb 09, 2024

Is figurative language important in poetry?

Very much so; it's a key element in creating vivid and evocative imagery.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Are news reports written in literal language?

Typically, yes, to accurately convey information.
Sara Rehman
Feb 09, 2024

Can literal interpretations lead to misunderstandings?

Yes, especially if figurative language is interpreted literally.
Harlon Moss
Feb 09, 2024
About Author
Written by
Sara Rehman
Sara Rehman is a seasoned writer and editor with extensive experience at Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Information Technology, she combines her academic prowess with her passion for writing to deliver insightful and well-researched content.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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