fig·​u·​ra·​tive | \ˈfi-g(y)ə-rə-tiv \

Definition of figurative 

1a : representing by a figure or resemblance : emblematic the figurative dove of peace

b : of or relating to representation of form or figure in art figurative sculpture

2a : 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 down— Lewis Mumford

b : characterized by figures of speech a figurative description

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Other Words from figurative

figuratively adverb
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

The artist was commissioned to create a figurative work in honor of the Queen’s reign. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "See David Hockney’s Stained Glass Window, Installed in Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth," 1 Oct. 2018 His absence, both literal and figurative, fills the pages of Ghost Of. Constance Grady, Vox, "We read all 25 National Book Award finalists for 2018. Here’s what we thought.," 15 Nov. 2018 Behind Brewer and her daughter-in-law sprawled a sea of literal and figurative red — an early-bird line that twisted and turned on the streets hours before the doors opened, a pro-Trump and pro-Cruz crowd dressed in Make-America-Great-Again red. Manny Fernandez, The Seattle Times, "Line for Trump’s Houston rally formed more than a day in advance," 22 Oct. 2018 The toxicity in the Crellin household is no longer figurative. Emma Dibdin, Harper's BAZAAR, "Sharp Objects Episode 7: Adora Shows Her True Colors," 20 Aug. 2018 Since Bevins is divorced, that knot is more than just figurative. Bob Sylva, sacbee, "1988: The desperate search for the East Area Rapist costs millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours | The Sacramento Bee," 25 Apr. 2018 That’s a magic that the Los Angeles artist Ray, now sixty-five years old, brings to figurative sculpture: investing deadpan realism with an aura of timeless form. Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, "“Like Life” Shows Seven Hundred Years of the Body," 24 Mar. 2018 Since the movement began with protests against police shootings of African-Americans, the bodies in question weren’t merely figurative. Mark Peters,, "What’s up with all the body talk?," 24 Feb. 2018 The central stanza describes her to us, for the only time, in figurative language. Willard Spiegelman, WSJ, "Words to Probe Our Deepest Thoughts," 6 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'figurative.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of figurative

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

History and Etymology for figurative

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

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Last Updated

11 Dec 2018

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

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More Definitions for figurative



English Language Learners Definition of figurative

of words, language, etc. : used with a meaning that is different from the basic meaning and that expresses an idea in an interesting way by using language that usually describes something else : not literal

: showing people and things in a way that resembles how they really look : not abstract


fig·​u·​ra·​tive | \ˈfi-gyə-rə-tiv \

Kids Definition of figurative

: expressing one thing in terms normally used for another The word “foot” is figurative in “the foot of the mountain.”

Other Words from figurative

figuratively adverb

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Comments on figurative

What made you want to look up figurative? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a nest or breeding place

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