Difference between Literal and Figurative Language

Main Difference – Literal vs. Figurative Language

Literal and figurative are two words that we often see in relation to language and writing. In language study, these words act as antonyms, i.e. they have the opposite meanings. Literal language is saying exactly what you mean while figurative language is more elaborate and uses literary techniques or figures of speech like hyperbole, personification, metaphors, etc. In this article, we are going to look at the main difference between the literal and figurative language in depth. 

What is Literal Language

This is the type of language we speak most of the time. The words in a literal sentence, give out their dictionary meaning. Literal language expresses thoughts and ideas in a clear and specific manner. They do not deviate from the accepted meaning. Thus, it is easy to understand literal language. This type of language is often used to deliver important information and is used in writing scientific, technical and legal documents.

difference between figurative and literal

She loves her son very much.

What is Figurative Language

Figurative language is a language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. For example, look at the sentence ‘raining cats and dogs’. This does not mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky. This actually means that it’s raining heavily.

Figurative language is more elaborate than literal language, and this type of writing is commonly used in works of literature. A writer uses figures of speech like similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, paradox, etc. to make the language more elaborate and figurative. Some examples of figurative language and the figures of speech  are given below.

Idiom (an expression that has a figurative meaning unrelated to the literal meaning of the phrase.)

“She drowned her sorrows in alcohol.”

Metaphor (a figure of speech used in comparison)

“He is the apple of her eye.”

Oxymoron (two words having opposite meanings are used together)

“She felt that it was time for this bittersweet relationship to end.”

Hyperbole (exaggeration)

“You scared me to death.”

Simile (compares two things)

“Her eyes were like the deep pools to her soul.”

Personification (giving human characteristics to a non-living thing)

“The old man waited for Death to come to him.”  

literal vs figurative languge.

He is the apple of her eye.

Difference Between Literal Language and Figurative Language


Literal language uses words that are in strict agreement with their original meanings.

Figurative language uses words or expressions with  meanings that are different from the literal interpretation.


Literal language is used in documents that contain direct information.(Examples; Legal, technical documents)

Figurative language is commonly used in literature.


Literal language is used in both spoken and written language.

Figurative language is rarely used in spoken language.


Literal language is often simple, direct and therefore, the readers find it easy to understand.

Figurative language can be complex and bit difficult to understand.

Figures of speech

Literal language does not use figures of speech.

Figurative language uses figures of speech.


Literal language expresses ideas in a simple, specific manner.

Figurative language expresses ideas in a vague manner.

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