adjective fig·u·ra·tive \ ˈfi-g(y)ə-rə-tiv \
|Updated on: 7 Aug 2018

Definition of figurative

1 a : 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
2 a : 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





Examples of figurative in a Sentence

  1. 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.”

  2. the figurative use of “allergy” to mean “a feeling of dislike”

Recent Examples of figurative from the Web

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.

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).

Origin and Etymology of 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 2figure

figurative Synonyms

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

FIGURATIVE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of figurative for English Language Learners

  • 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

FIGURATIVE Defined for Kids


adjective fig·u·ra·tive \ ˈfi-gyə-rə-tiv \

Definition of figurative for Students

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



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