Riding the Back of the Tiger: Using Figurative Language

Figures of speech are ways of saying things when ordinary words just won’t do. They aren’t to be taken literally. They are used in poetry a lot, but can’t also be used in your prose.

  • Simile: A simile compares two unlike things using “like” or “as.” His hands were wrinkled and weathered like an old leather glove. Here’s an example from Curious George: Up, up he sailed, higher and higher; the houses looked like toy houses and the people like dolls.
  • Metaphor: A metaphor compares two unlike things and says something is something else. The meeting was a circus. This is from Shakespeare: Juliet is the sun. Here’s another example: forest of windmills.
  • Personification: Personification gives the inanimate, the non-living, the abstract or the “unhuman” the qualities of being alive or human. The screen door flew open. The floors creaked. The wind blew through the trees. The idea would not leave her alone. From Dr. Seuss: This is your day, your mountain is waiting so get on your way.
  • Hyperbole: Hyperbole is exaggeration. A writer uses hyperbole to create emphasis or even humor. She changed her mind as often as she inhaled. In this following passage from The Polar Express, the narrator is describing a train ride to the North Pole: We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon.
  • Onomatopoeia: Onomatopoeia is the use of words that imitate the sounds they describe–for example, words like snap and crackle.

Use figures of speech sparingly. Too many metaphors in a paragraph may wear out a reader. Here’s a simile to remember when it comes to using figures of speech: figures of speech are like spice; too much ruins the soup, but just the right amount enhances the flavor.


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