Figures of Speech

Definition | Meaning

A figure of speech is a phrase or word used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or rich effect. It is an expression that is different from its literal meaning.

A figure of speech is a way of describing something or someone interestingly and vividly. The words or phrases may not mean exactly what they suggest, but they paint a clear picture in the mind of the reader or listener. A figure of speech can be in the form of a phrase or a single word. The figures of speech are also knowns as rhetorical figures.

Figure of speech is easier to understand than an idiom as you do not have to be familiar with the language to decipher it. Every language has its figures of speech and idioms that are own to that language. They are used to make writing more interesting.

There are many types of figures of speech in the English language, but we are going to learn the most common types.

Types of Figure of Speech

  1. Alliteration
  2. Metaphor
  3. Onomatopoeia
  4. Personification
  5. Simile


Alliteration is a figure of speech in which two usually consecutive words begin with the same consonant sound but not always the same latter.

The word doesn’t always have to be right next to each other, but when you say or read them, the sound is repeated.

For example, four fabulous fish and go and gather the flowers on the grass.

Alliteration helps us to make what we say or write more interesting to listen to or read. Writers and poets use alliteration to make their writing memorable and fun to read. Read the list of alliterative phrases below.

20 Alliteration Examples

  1. cold coffee
  2. happy Harry
  3. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
  4. She sells sea shells on the sea shore
  5. Becky's beagle barked and bayed, which bothered Billy
  6. Donald Duck
  7. Jackrabbits jump and jiggle jauntily
  8. moaning Marry
  9. Mighty Mouse
  10. Larry's lizard loves to lounge
  11. funny Fred's fantastic fan
  12. humble house
  13. potential power play
  14. Beautiful Barbara boasted about her bravery.
  15. Champion Charlie chomped chunks of chicken.
  16. My mother makes mouthwatering mushroom macaroni.
  17. Helpful Harriet happily helped the homeless horsey.
  18. Giggly Gerta grabbed the golden goose.
  19. The lazy lion licked his lips.
  20. Silly Sam stuck the stolen stapler in his suitcase.

There are many, many more you will see – and many new ones you can make up – as you do the practice.


We use metaphors all the time. Suppose when your Mummy says, "This house is a zoo!" she doesn't mean that it is the place where animal lives. She just means that everyone in the house is as noisy as a bunch of animals would be.

She's using the zoo as a metaphor for the house, she's describing the house as if were a zoo, to make the comparison clear.

It's great fun to use metaphors because they make what we say more colourful and people can understand what we are trying to tell them better.

Metaphors Examples

Look at this list of metaphors and what they mean. It will get you started.

  1. dirty pig – very filthy
  2. having two left feet – very bad dancer
  3. to get cold feet – to become nervous
  4. to be an early bird – to reach first or earliest
  5. pearls of wisdom – wise words
  6. to be a worm – to be a sneaky person
  7. a piece of cake – very easy
  8. weep buckets – cry a lot
  9. to look daggers – to glare angrily
  10. to be a night owl – to stay awake at night


Personification is giving human qualities to something that may not be human, or even alive.

For example, when you say: "The flowers nodded their head cheerfully."

What you mean here is that the flowers moved about in the wind looking as if they were cheerful and happy. You're imagining that  the flowers have human emotions.

Personification Examples

  1. laughing flowers
  2. howling wind
  3. smiling sun
  4. opportunity knocking at the door
  5. shoe bite
  6. blinking headlights
  7. the buzzing city
  8. dancing flame
  9. a roaring fire
  10. a furious storm


This is a big word that just means words that imitate sounds. Pitter-patter is an example of onomatopoeia. It mimics the sound of rain or maybe little feet.

The word tinkle is also onomatopoeia. It mimics the sound of a bell or falling water.

We use onomatopoeia all the time in our everyday speech. Poets and writers use this figure of speech to make their writing more expressive too.

Onomatopoeia Examples

  1. zoom
  2. beep
  3. groan
  4. giggle
  5. boom
  6. chirp
  7. clatter
  8. click
  9. clip-clop
  10. cluck
  11. creak
  12. croak
  13. fizz
  14. flap
  15. flutter
  16. honk
  17. jingle
  18. hum
  19. moo
  20. bang
  21. ding-dong
  22. achoo
  23. plop
  24. thud
  25. flip-flop


A simile is a figure of speech in which two things are directly compared. We use the word like or as to make the comparison.

  1. as dark as the night
  2. as cool as a cucumber
  3. fought like cats and dogs
  4. eat like a horse

The four phrases above are all similes. The beauty of a simile is that it helps us imagine clearly what the writer is trying to say. Poets and writers use similes to make their writing come alive.

Similes Examples

  1. as blind as a bat
  2. as bold as brass
  3. as bright as a button
  4. as black as coal
  5. as clear as crystal
  6. as cold as ice
  7. as cool as a cucumber
  8. as cunning as a fox
  9. as deaf as a post
  10. as dry as a bone
  11. as easy as abc
  12. as fit as a fiddle
  13. as flat as a pancake
  14. as free as a bird
  15. as fresh as a daisy
  16. as gentle as a lamb
  17. as good as gold
  18. as warm as toast
  19. as white as snow
  20. as wise as an owl

Origin of Figure of Speech

Every figure of speech has a different origin. It is not clear where the phrase "figure of speech" comes from. The earliest use of figures of speech is found in the Bible, so it is clear that they have been around for hundreds of years. The most commonly used ones in the Bible are similes. This means that one thing is used in place of another. For example, 'God is light.'

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