The various figures of speech, English

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Such is the beauty of the figures of speech of English language, if used in the right sense, it lives up to the saying - "a pen is mightier than a sword". On the contrary, if misused, they may reduce a great argument to a mere nothing. There is no doubt that learning the proper usage of the figures of speech is indeed a tedious task, but as one masters over the method, his arguments are sure to be devastatingly logical. Time and again we come across articles using various figures of speech in a not very apt manner and thereby ending up in conveying something entirely different from what they initially had intended to. Often, people opine that it is better to be literal than to embellish with figures of speech that end up in confusing the reader. Such a situation is a consequence of either the reader having a poor knowledge of the figures of speech or the reader being figuratively challenged, thus wanting the write-up to be more literal. One therefore needs to be thoroughly acquainted with the rudiments of the grammar usage, to make sure that the reflection of his perception in his piece of writing is fully conceived by the reader. In other words, it should be reader friendly. A quick look at the various figures of speech enlightens us on its usage.

The various figures of speech:

1. Idioms:

An Idiom might be a word, a phrase or just an expression in a given language which has a meaning, entirely different from the grammatical meaning of the individual elements it contains in itself. The word or phrase, necessarily, doesn't mean the literal meaning of the words it is made up of. An idiom, we might say, adds humor and variety to the English language. For instance say, 'That night it rained cats and dogs'. Now, the reader who is acquainted just with the meaning of the words rain, cats and dogs would fail to decipher the actual idea that the writer wants to convey: torrential rainfall. To cite another instance, 'Sportsmen are advised to make hay while the sun shines' (flyme.). This phrase doesn't actually suggest making hay when the sun shines. The idea the writer wants to put forth is the actual meaning of the idiom: one has to make the most out of the opportunity before him.

2. Analogy:

An Analogy is used to throw some light on the similarity between two things, in some respect, which are otherwise dissimilar.

For instance: Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. They do not have to be taught to mug and stuff, instead they have to be opened in a way, which helps them find the riches that lie deep within themselves. (Sydney J. Harris, "What True Education Should Do," 1964, (grammar.about). In this case, a reader who has the least knowledge will find no sense of correlation between the oysters, sausages and pupils. On the contrary, a reader well versed with the figures of speech understands the underlying essence.

Similarly, 'the singer had a velvet voice'. Obviously, our common sense tells us, voices aren't made up of velvet, the phrase meant to say the voice was smooth and soothing to the ears.

3. Metaphor:

This figure of speech uses the characteristics of an intangible or abstract thing to shed some light on a more tangible thing. These function to comprehend ideas that are often considered incomprehensible.

One very commonly used metaphor says "Love is a jewel" (grammar.about). Obviously, love is an abstract feeling, it isn't something material. But the metaphor works to imply that love is as precious as a jewel is, one has to treasure it.

One, who is unaware about the use of metaphors, is bound to rubbish off the phrase, concluding that there is no real relation between love and a jewel. But one, who understands, knows the beauty of the phrase.

4. Simile:

Simile directly compares to different things by taking the help of words like 'as' or 'like'. It emphasizes on stressing on the intended meaning. For instance, her eyes were as deep as an ocean or he fought like a lion (flyme). In both the phrases the underlying meaning is to convey certain characteristics of the subject concerned. Fighting like a lion essentially implies towards bravery.

5. Cliché:

This figure of speech is an indicator of a phrase or word that has been used so often, that it has begun losing the very idea it intended to effectuate, initially. In simpler words, the phrases that have lost their impact are called Clichés. Phrases like 'Honesty is the best policy' or 'this is the time of my life' have little or no impact on us, because we have heard these phrases so many times that they fail to register a significant impact in our minds now.

6. Amphiboly:

The vagueness in the grammatical order of a sentence is called Amphiboly. Amphiboly functions to suggest two or more meanings. For instance to say that 'I will not waste time reading this fifty page assignment' can mean two things. Either the person will make no delays in reading or the person meant to say that he won't be wasting his time reading this long an assignment (knowgrammaring). Thus this figure of speech injects into the statement a sense of ambiguity or disorder.


Flame words are essentially words that are harshly meant. These are words that are meant to kindle an argument, or to instigate a fight or insult someone. These function as derogatory words. These employ exaggeration, innuendo, clichés and sarcasm etc. to get back at their opponents. The sentences like- "I have always stood up to bullies" ... "I have always tried to understand mental illness" ... "I never realized the Nazis still marched in your area" are examples of flaming (flyme).

8. Hyperbole:

These are exaggerated words or phrases that are used generally to create a forceful or strong impact. These are therefore not taken by their literal meaning.

For example when we say 'I've told that a million times', this doesn't mean that we have actually said it a million times rather, it implies that we have said it a lot many times. When one says 'the bag weighed a ton', he doesn't mean that it really weighed a ton; he wants to imply that the bag was really heavy.

9. Euphemism:

Substituting a relatively mild, vague or more indirect term for some term that is often considered to be blunt or offensive or might hurt the sentiments of the listener or might prove to be unpleasant to the listener is Euphemism. The euphemisms are subtle and are expected to pass as uncontroversial remarks (grammar.about). Instances of euphemism: using the words passed away for the word died, relieve oneself for urinate and gentleman friend for lover.

Not having proper knowledge of euphemisms might lead to vague interpretations.

10. Colloquialism:

These are the words or phrases that are uttered without straining one's conversation or in other words are spontaneous, from informal situations and ordinary conversations. For instance: 'life is a can of worms' would mean it is full of unpredictable trouble and complexity. Another instance of using colloquialism in poetry is: I lay down last night . . . tried to take my rest
my mind got to ramblin', like a wild geese in the west.
-- (Skip James, "Devil Got My Woman," 1931)


To sum up, the figurative speech doesn't mean all its literal meaning. One has to have an understanding of the figures of speech and common sense, to understand what the writer exactly wants to convey. The figures of speech add the much needed and accepted vigor, strength and humor to the English Language. Without figures of speech, English language would lose its variety and versatility. Thus, it is better suggested that one verses himself well in understanding the figures of speech so that the underlying meaning what the writer wants to project is always correctly conceived.

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