Figures Of Speech: Simile, Metaphor, Personification, Hyperbole And Understatement

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Figures Of Speech


All authors use figures of speech in literature and poetry to emphasize their writing. They link the ideas that go beyond the word’ usual, literal meanings. There are many types of figures of speech The Five common ones are:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Understatement

I am going to talk about them in detail.

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A simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison, showing similarities between two different things. Unlike a metaphor, a simile draws resemblance with the help of the words “like” or “as.” Therefore, it is a direct comparison. We can find simile examples in our daily speech. We often hear comments like, “John is as slow as a snail.” Snails are notorious for their slow pace, and here the slowness of John is compared to that of a snail. The use of “as” in the example helps to draw the resemblance. Now we know the definition of a simile, let’s look at some examples of common similes.

Common Examples Of Simile:

  • Our soldiers are as brave as lions.
  • Her lips are red like a rose.
  • He is as funny as a dog.
  • The water well was as dry as a bone.
  • He is as cunning as a fox.

Examples of Simile in literature

Example #1: Lord Jim (By Joseph Conrad)

“I would have given anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel wires of a cage.”

In these lines from Lord Jim, the helplessness of the soul is compared with a small bird in a cage, beating itself against the merciless wires to be free.

Example #2: To the Lighthouse (By Virginia Woolf)

“… impressions poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s pencil… “

In the above example of simile, Ms. Woolf makes the point that her thoughts are difficult to follow, and cannot be written quickly enough.

Example #3: Lolita (By Vladimir Nabokov)

“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.”

In this example, he compares old women leaning on walking sticks with the ancient leaning tower of Pisa

Example #4: A Red, Red Rose (By Robert Burns)

“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve’s like the Melodie

That’s sweetly played in tune.”

In the example above Robert Burns uses a simile to describe the beauty of his beloved. He says that his love is a fresh red rose that blossoms in the spring.

Example #5: Othello (By William Shakespeare)

“It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,—

Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!

It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood;

Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,

And smooth as monumental alabaster.”

In the last line, Othello compares Desdemona’s smooth skin to alabaster


So what is a Metaphor? A Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes an implicit, implied, or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share some common characteristics. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristic. In simple English, when you portray a person, place, thing, or action as being something else, even though it is not actually that “something else,” you are speaking metaphorically. The following phrase is an example of metaphor, “My brother is the black sheep of the family,” because he is neither a sheep nor is he black. However, we can use this comparison to describe an association of a black sheep with that person. A black sheep is an unusual animal, which typically stays away from the herd, and the person being described shares similar characteristics. However, the metaphor figure of speech is different from a simile, because we do not use “like” or “as” to develop a comparison in metaphor poems and metaphor sentences. It makes an implicit or hidden comparison and not an explicit one.

Examples of Metaphor

  • My brother was boiling mad. (This implies he was too angry.)
  • The assignment was a breeze. (This implies that the assignment was not difficult.)
  • It is going to be clear skies from now on. (This implies that clear skies are not a threat and life is going to be without hardships)
  • The skies of his future began to darken. (Darkness is a threat; therefore, this implies that the coming times are going to be hard for him.)
  • Her voice is music to his ears. (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy)
  • He saw the soul of dust when passing through the dust storm.
  • Chaos is the breeding ground of order.
  • War is the mother of all battles.
  • Her dance is a great poem.
  • A new road to freedom passes through this valley of death

Example #1: Vestiges (By Van Jordan)

“… and jump in the sea and say, follow me, and know you would. The sea is cold and it’s deep, too, I’d joke, standing at the edge of the boat’s bow. A wind breathes across the sea, joining gently the edges of time.”

Just spot different metaphors in these six lines by Van Jordan. This is the “sea” of time. This is an extended metaphor that is further expanded to its feature of coldness, depth, and then edges and voyage through it.

Example #2: The Sun Rising (By John Donne)

“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains call on us?”

This is another example of a good metaphor where the sun is being called a fool by John Done, who is famous for his use of weird metaphor

Example #6: Paradise Lost, Book 1 (By John Milton)

“Invoke thy aid to my adventurous Song,

That with no middle flight intends to soar

Above th’ Aonian Mount”

This is a good metaphor by Milton, from his epic Paradise Lost. Here, Milton has compared his poetry to a dove.

Example #7: I carry your heart with me (By E. E. Cummings)

“…and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you …”

Here E. E. Cummings has compared his beloved to the moon, as well as to the sun. This is another good metaphor by a modern poet.

Example #8: The Storm (By Kate Chopin)

“Her mouth was a fountain of delight. And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of life’s mystery.”

Just check the excellence of using a metaphor in just one sentence. The second one is its extension.


A personification involves giving a non-human, inanimate object the qualities of a person.

Common Examples of Personification

Look at my car. She is a beauty, isn’t she?

  • The Wind Whispered through dry grass
  • Time and Tide wait for none
  • The fire swallowed the entire forest

We see from the above examples of personification that this literary device helps us relate actions of inanimate objects to our own emotions.

Examples Of Personification

Example #1: Loveliest of Trees the Cherry Now (By A. H. Houseman)

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.”

He personifies the cherry tree with beautiful white flowers in the forest and says that the cherry tree wears white clothes to celebrate Easter. He gives human attributes to a tree in order to describe it in human terms.

Example #2: Have You Got A Brook In Your Little Heart (By Emily Elizabeth Dickinson)

“Have you got a brook in your little heart,

Where bashful flowers blow,

And blushing birds go down to drink,

And shadows tremble so?”

The bashful flowers, blushing birds, and trembling shadows are examples of personification.

Example #3: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (By William Wordsworth)

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

This poem by William Wordsworth contains artistic examples of personification. The fourth line says, “A host of golden daffodils,” and the fifth line has those flowers “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

Example #4: The Waste Land (By T. S. ELIOT)

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.”

First-line contains personification he personifies April with the cruelest month’


A hyperbole is an exaggeration of the truth in order to create an effect. Sometimes that’s done in a single statement. Other times it can happen with repetition like in Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Read the poem aloud. Notice the effect of the last two lines. The reader feels the tiredness of the weary traveler.

Common Examples of Hyperbole

  • My grandmother is as old as the hills.
  • Your suitcase weighs a ton!
  • She is as heavy as an elephant!
  • I am dying of shame.

I am trying to solve a million issues these days let’s take a look at some examples

Examples of hyperbole

Example #1: As I Walked One Evening (By W. H. Auden)

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you

Till China and Africa meet,

And the river jumps over the mountain

And the salmon sing in the street,

I’ll love you till the ocean

Is folded and hung up to dry.”

The use of hyperbole can be seen in the above lines in the meeting of China and Africa, the jumping of the river over the mountain, the singing of salmon in the street, and the ocean being folded and hung up to dry are exaggerations, not possible in real life.

Example #2: The Adventures of Pinocchio (By C. Colloid)

“He cried all night, and dawn found him still there, though his tears had dried and only hard, dry sobs shook his wooden frame. But these were so loud that they could be heard by the faraway hills …”

The crying of Pinocchio all night until his tears became dry is an example of Hyperbole.


An understatement is a figure of speech employed by writers or speakers to intentionally make a situation seem less important than it really is. For example, you win 10 million dollars in a lottery. When you tell a news reporter “I am delighted,” you are making an understatement. Similarly, suppose a team loses to its opponent 50 to 0 in a soccer match, and the captain of the team says in a post-match ceremony,

“We did not do well,” it is an understatement because he is trying to decrease the intensity of the loss

Common Understatement Examples

  • “Deserts are sometimes hot, dry, and sandy.” – Describing deserts of the world.
  • “He is not too thin.” – Describing an obese person.
  • “It rained a bit more than usual.” – Describing an area being flooded by heavy rainfall.
  • “It was O.K.” – Said by the student who got the highest score on the test.
  • “It is a bit nippy today.” – Describing the temperature, which is 5 degrees below freezing

Example of understatement

Example #1: Night’s Dawn Trilogy (By Peter F. Hamilton)

Look at the understatement in Night’s Dawn Trilogy written by Peter F. Hamilton:

“I’ve always been a massive admirer of the Edenist ability to understate. But I think defining a chunk of land fifteen kilometers across that suddenly takes flight and wanders off into another dimension as a little problem is possibly the best example yet.

Example #2: Consider Phlebas (By Iain Banks)

Here is an example by Phlebas, an understatement was made about a war that lasted for 48 years and took the lives of more than 851 billion beings.

“A small, short war that rarely extended throughout more than .02% of the galaxy and .01% by stellar population … the galaxy’s elder civilizations rate the Idiran-Culture war as … one of those singularly interesting Events they see so rarely these days.”




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