figure of speech

A figure of speech is a phrase or saying that's not literal, like saying someone who died "kicked the bucket."

Language is full of terms, phrases, and sayings that might seem odd if you don't already know what they mean. When you say you're hungry enough to eat a horse, it's doubtful you mean that literally: it's just a figure of speech. When you say it's raining cats and dogs, pets aren't falling from the sky: it's a figure of speech. English is full of figures of speech, which are definitely not a case of language going to the dogs.

Definitions of figure of speech
  1. noun
    language used in a figurative or nonliteral sense
    synonyms: figure, image, trope
    see moresee less
    show 20 types...
    hide 20 types...
    an elaborate poetic image or a far-fetched comparison of very dissimilar things
    a trope that involves incongruity between what is expected and what occurs
    exaggeration, hyperbole
    extravagant exaggeration
    a compound word used as a conventional metaphorical name for something, specially in Old English and Old Norse poetry
    a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity
    substituting the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself (as in `they counted heads')
    conjoining contradictory terms (as in `deafening silence')
    personification, prosopopoeia
    representing an abstract quality or idea as a person or creature
    a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds (usually formed with `like' or `as')
    a figure of speech in which part of something is used to refer to or represent the whole thing (or vice versa)
    use of a word to govern two or more words though appropriate to only one
    a figure of speech in which an author appeals to more than one of the five senses
    dramatic irony
    (theater) irony that occurs when the meaning of the situation is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play
    dead metaphor, frozen metaphor
    a metaphor that has occurred so often that it has become a new meaning of the expression (e.g., `he is a snake' may once have been a metaphor but after years of use it has died and become a new sense of the word `snake')
    mixed metaphor
    a combination of two or more metaphors that together produce a ridiculous effect
    synesthetic metaphor
    a metaphor that exploits a similarity between experiences in different sense modalities
    substituting metonymy of one figurative sense for another
    use of a word to govern two or more words though agreeing in number or case etc. with only one
    verbal irony
    when the intended meaning of a speaker’s words contrasts with the literal meaning
    situational irony
    when the result of an event or action is the opposite of what was intended or expected
    type of:
    rhetorical device
    a use of language that creates a literary effect (but often without regard for literal significance)
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week