Literal Language vs. Figurative Language: What's the Difference?

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Key Difference

One might have heard of both these terms, literal and figurative together as they are quite interrelated. As a language, literal and figurative language have a wide impact on our daily lives and also have much to do in the literature. Literal Language is the language which stands exactly for the same what one have said as the words in this are used according to the precise definition or proper meanings. In other words, we can say that it is the simpler form of the language where words exactly mean the very same to what is being said. On the other hand, figurative language is the language that exactly doesn’t mean as said, it is complex and might have a hidden meaning that could only be understood by the one familiar with roots of the language. In figurative figures of speech like personification, metaphor, idioms, irony are used.

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Comparison Chart

Literal LanguageFigurative Language
MeaningLiteral Language is the simplest language that is saying exactly what it means.Figurative language is complex and might have a hidden meaning that could only be understood by the one familiar with roots of the language
UsageThe literal language is used in technical or legal documents as they are simple and easy to understand and can carry an easy and clear message to the reader.The figurative language is used in literature to entertain the reader and also to grab the attention.
Figures of SpeechNoPersonification, metaphor, idioms, irony and others

What is Literal Language?

Literal Language is the simplest language that is saying exactly what it means. It stands for the actual words and has no complexities or hidden meaning. The adopter of the particular language can even easily understand the literal language as it is based on the proper meanings and precise definitions of the words. The literal language is used in technical or legal documents as they are simple and easy to understand and can carry an easy and clear message to the reader. Even the vocabulary used in there is quite appropriate and gets a single interpretation in the mind of the reader. The words opening to more than one interpretation or the expressions having the hidden meaning under the actual words are strongly avoided in the literal language. In our daily lives, while communicating with each other, we also use literal language as it carries the actual message and is understood easily by the receiver. It eliminates much of the communication issues and is quite handy.

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What is Figurative Language?

Figurative language is the language that exactly doesn’t mean as said, it is complex and might have a hidden meaning that could only be understood by the one familiar with roots of the language. Most prominently the figurative language is used in literature to entertain the reader and also to grab the attention. The figurative language often works as the crisp in the expression as it makes it more extensive and complex. The one affiliated with literature possess deep thoughts and have complex idea of things, the figurative language works as a pure treat to such people, although the one not knowing about the deep roots of language can even fail to induce meaning from the sentence. Figures of speech like personification, metaphor, idioms, irony are used in figurative language. So one thing should be clear that they can’t be translated literally and only the native speaker or the expert can translate them into any other language. For instance, the idiom ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ would not be creating any meaning if we go with the literal meaning but regarding figurative, it is an expression that refers to the happening of heavy rain.

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Literal vs. Figurative Language

  • Literal Language is the simplest language that is saying what it means, on the other hand, figurative language is the language that exactly doesn’t mean as said, it is complex and might have a hidden meaning that could only be understood by the one familiar with roots of the language.
  • Figures of speech like personification, metaphor, idioms, irony are used in figurative language.
  • The literal language is used in technical or legal documents as they are simple and easy to understand and can carry an easy and clear message to the reader, whereas figurative language is used in literature to entertain the reader and also to grab the attention.

Explanatory Video