fig·​u·​ra·​tive | \ ˈfi-g(y)ə-rə-tiv How to pronounce figurative (audio) \

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

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

Ambrose goes digging, and as more and more skeletons (literal and figurative) start turning up, the story begins to morph into something bigger. Karen Han, Vox, "The Sinner is the rare murder mystery that doesn’t care whodunnit. Instead, it asks, “Why?”," 31 July 2018 In a digital age when anyone with a phone camera can become a self-portraitist with a tap of a finger, perhaps the most provocative statement an artist can make is to turn their attention to a figurative medium dating back to ancient times. Vanessa Lawrence, ELLE Decor, "These New Cameos From Cindy Sherman, Catherine Opie Are Worth the Flight to Venice," 8 May 2019 On football Saturdays, all four thousand cadets wore camouflage uniforms, jumping up and down in the student section, dressed for figurative battle. Claire Gibson, Marie Claire, "Why My Relationship With Camo Print Is Messy," 29 Apr. 2019 In a wide-ranging story for Vulture that is excerpted from a forthcoming monograph, author Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah profiles figurative painter Henry Taylor, who had five new paintings exhibited at last year’s Whitney Biennial. Danielle Jackson, Longreads, "‘Wild With Love’: Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah on the Portraits of Henry Taylor," 12 July 2018 Smith started out as a figurative painter before gravitating toward abstraction. Deborah Vankin,, "Shinique Smith's 'Refuge' explores shelter, homelessness and the excess of our stuff," 13 June 2018 Nearly all were figurative, Bleckner and Marden the exceptions. Town & Country, "Mary Boone Is Taking a Break," 18 Apr. 2019 Among those drawn to these narratives is CNN's Cooper, whose eclectic collection of mostly figurative art ranges from Old Master canvases to hand-painted, wooden barber signs from East Africa. Katya Kazakina,, "Black art spurs gold rush as collector stampede drives up prices," 18 Apr. 2018 Consider that Rihanna is a Timberland rather than a ballet flat devotee, and Hiking Boot will come in handy to depict all kinds of figurative journeys. Vogue, "These Are the Top 9 New Emoji You'll Need for 2018," 8 Feb. 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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Statistics for figurative

Last Updated

12 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for figurative

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 How to pronounce figurative (audio) \

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).


showing courage and determination

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