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

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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 All in all, the hope is that the advent of self-driving cars will produce a mobility-for-all outcome and be a lifesaver in a multitude of figurative and literal ways. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 7 June 2021 While certainly classifiable as a realist painter, Bryce’s work also combines figurative and surrealist elements that deal in themes of, to put it as simply as possible, the universality of the human condition. Seth Combs Writer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 May 2021 Davis, 37, lives in Ocean Beach and talked about journeying the coast through wildfires, uncertainty, and the literal and figurative paths that led her to this new place in her life. Lisa Deaderick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 Aug. 2021 Known for redefining figurative art and the representation of women since the 1950s, this exhibition will showcase over 100 of her works, including collage, paintings, large-scale pastels, ink and pencil drawings as well as etchings. Felicity Carter, Forbes, 5 July 2021 In 1984, for instance, Ghislaine Howard produced a powerful self-portrait showing the later stages of her pregnancy; the figurative artist can be seen slumped in a chair, highlighting the physical strains of her condition. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian Magazine, 21 Jan. 2020 Haiti emerged as the literal and figurative bete noir of colonial powers in the 19th century. Peniel E. Joseph, CNN, 20 Aug. 2021 The works from these years are figurative but radically pared down, so that the grain of the wood or the sensuous possibilities of marble assume increasing importance. Ann Landi, WSJ, 9 July 2021 Soutine was a figurative artist painting abstractly, de Kooning an abstract painter never abandoning figuration, both employing gestural brushstrokes, intense color and emotional resonance throughout their work. Chadd Scott, Forbes, 8 June 2021

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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Time Traveler for figurative

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

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Last Updated

18 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Figurative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for figurative



English Language Learners Definition of figurative

: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on figurative

Nglish: Translation of figurative for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of figurative for Arabic Speakers


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