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 Independent has both literal and figurative meanings. Rachel Leingang, The Arizona Republic, "Want to understand Arizona politics? This glossary of Grand Canyon State terms will help," 9 Sep. 2020 The speakers addressed a literal void, but also a figurative one. Fintan O’toole, The New York Review of Books, "Night and Day," 26 Aug. 2020 Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was impressed by the fireworks display over the National Mall, but said President Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention lacked figurative fireworks. Madison Dibble, Washington Examiner, "Chris Wallace: Trump's RNC acceptance speech was 'surprisingly flat'," 28 Aug. 2020 Sadly, that’s not entirely surprising at a time when walls, both literal and figurative, are a frequent source of division and controversy. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, "The Mavericks’ all-Spanish album, ‘En Español,’ seeks to uplift and unify: ‘Music can help break down walls’," 23 Aug. 2020 Giant pandas are literal and figurative icons of the worldwide conservation movement. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Giant Panda Mama Welcomes Baby Cub at National Zoo Friday Evening," 21 Aug. 2020 Sure enough, 50 years later and with prompting about nothing specific, Slade tipped a figurative cap to West Texans’ hospitality and their food. Don Williams, USA TODAY, "When football helped the healing: How Lubbock rallied around a college all-star game," 12 July 2020 Jerrell Gibbs is an emerging figurative artist who grew up in Baltimore. Washington Post, "A Baltimore house once owned by Frederick Douglass has become a history lesson," 17 Aug. 2020 In his first year on the job, the figurative script often ended up in tatters. Nathan Ruiz,, "Improved bullpen helping upstart Orioles find themselves in contention at season’s one-third point," 16 Aug. 2020

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

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for figurative

Last Updated

17 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Figurative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for figurative


How to pronounce figurative (audio)

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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