fig·​u·​ra·​tive ˈfi-g(y)ə-rə-tiv How to pronounce figurative (audio)
: representing by a figure or resemblance : emblematic
the figurative dove of peace
: of or relating to representation of form or figure in art
figurative sculpture
: expressing one thing in terms normally denoting another with which it may be regarded as analogous : metaphorical
figurative language
in a figurative sense, civilization marches up and downLewis Mumford
: characterized by figures of speech
a figurative description
figurativeness noun

Did you know?

Words and phrases can have both literal and figurative meanings, and we all use words with both kinds of meanings every day of our lives. We can literally close the door to a room, or we can figuratively close the door to further negotiations—that is, refuse to take part in them. Figurative language includes figures of speech, such as similes ("she's been like a sister to me") and metaphors ("a storm of protest"). And sometimes it's hard to tell whether a phrase is literal or figurative: If I say I "picked up" a little Spanish in Mexico, is that literal or figurative? You've probably noticed that lots of the definitions in this book show both a literal meaning (often something physical) and a figurative meaning (often nonphysical).

Examples of figurative in a Sentence

The phrase “know your ropes” means literally “to know a lot about ropes,” while its figurative meaning is “to know a lot about how to do something.” the figurative use of “allergy” to mean “a feeling of dislike”
Recent Examples on the Web Directed by cowriter and producer Ben Draghi, the video is a showcase for all of Fox’s personae, from actress to designer to memoirist to muse to Mother (both literal and figurative). Ej Dickson, Rolling Stone, 10 May 2024 This year, the disruption is more figurative, but in many ways much worse: Linear TV, the linchpin of the ad business for Hollywood, is rapidly eroding. Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for figurative 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'figurative.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English figuratif "representing symbolically," from Medieval Latin figūrātīvus, from Latin figūrātus, past participle of figūrāre "to shape, make a likeness of, represent" + -īvus -ive — more at figure entry 2

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of figurative was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near figurative

Cite this Entry

“Figurative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


fig·​u·​ra·​tive ˈfig-(y)ə-rət-iv How to pronounce figurative (audio)
: expressing one thing in terms normally used for another : metaphorical
the figurative use of "foot" in "the foot of the mountain"
figuratively adverb
figurativeness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on figurative

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