Difference Between Literal and Figurative Language

Key Difference – Literal vs Figurative Language
 

Language plays a vital role in human interactions. It is this language that allows us to communicate with others in an effective manner. However, when speaking of language, there is a variety of classifications. Literal and figurative language is one such classification. Literal and figurative language do not denote the same thing. In fact, they refer to two completely different things. The key difference between literal and figurative language is that, in Literal language, words are used in their original or proper meaning. However, in the figurative language, it is not so. It uses words in forms such as metaphors, comparisons, similes, multiple meanings, references, etc. These are referred to as figures of speech. Through this article let us examine the differences between literal and figurative language further.

What is Literal Language?

Literal language is when a language or particularly words are used in its original sense or else in its direct meaning. This is easier to comprehend because the writer or speaker directly communicates his message without trying to mask it. This is straightforward and very obvious.

In our day to day conversations, we usually use literal language rather than figurative language. This allows us to comprehend what the other person is saying easily and also accurately without being misled.

For example observe the following sentences.

I waited at the bus stop for a long time.

The girls were inside the classroom by the time the teacher arrived.

I was in a difficult situation.

In each sentence, literal language has been used. The reader clearly comprehends what the writer has expressed because it is direct and simple. Figurative language, however, is not very simple and can be difficult to comprehend.

Difference Between Literal and Figurative Language

‘I waited at the bus stop for a long time’

What is Figurative Language?

Unlike in a literal language where the words make sense directly, in the figurative language, it is much more complex. In this case, the words do not directly express the meaning. The figurative language consists of figures of speech. Figures of speech refer to metaphors, comparisons, similes, references, personification, hyperbole, etc. This makes it difficult for the reader or listener to comprehend what is being said.

Figurative language is mostly used in works such as stories, poems, etc. In each context, the writer attempts to increase the beauty of the piece of writing and its artistic value by using figurative language. For example, a writer can describe the beauty of a woman by comparing her to the night sky. In such an instance, if we try to read the text in a literal sense, the true meaning cannot be captured. However, by fusing the literal and figurative language, one can certainly improve his quality of writing.

 Literal vs Figurative Language

Comparing a woman to the night sky  is an example of figurative language

What is the Difference Between Literal and Figurative Language?

Definitions of Literal and Figurative Language:

Literal Language: Literal language is when words are used in their original sense or else in their direct meaning.

Figurative Language: Figurative language is the usage of figures of speech such as metaphors, comparisons, similes, references, personification, hyperbole, etc. to bring out the meaning.

Characteristics of Literal and Figurative Language:

Direct vs Indirect:

Literal Language: Literal language is direct.

Figurative Language: Figurative language is indirect.

Comprehension:

Literal Language: Literal language is easy to comprehend.

Figurative Language: Figurative language can be much more complex to comprehend.

Obvious or Not:

Literal Language: Literal language is obvious.

Figurative Language: Figurative language is not obvious.

Meaning:

Literal Language: In the literal language, you grasp the meaning by reading or listening to it.

Figurative Language: In the figurative language, you have to go a step further to fully grasp the meaning.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Bus transport in Singapore by mailer_diablo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Milky way via Pixabay (Public Domain)