A figure of speech is a word or phrase that is meant to be taken metaphorically. In other words, their meaning is figurative, not literal. Take a look at the example conversation below.
Kyle: “I’m not sure I can give this presentation, I have butterflies in my stomach.”
Brad: “What? Did you swallow a butterfly?”
Kyle: “No, it’s a figure of speech. I am nervous, that’s all.”
Did you notice the figure of speech in the example above? When taken literally, it does not make sense. So to properly understand what Kyle is saying, we need to discern the figurative meaning of the phrase he used. In this case, it means ‘to feel nervous.’
Note: A figure of speech is also called a metaphor; these two are synonyms. To learn more about the definition of a metaphor, see our examples of metaphors in sentences page for further details.
10 Common Figure of Speech Examples
I am going to show you a list. What is on it? This list has ten figures of speech examples on it that are commonly heard in everyday conversations. You may have heard these before.
1. Draw a Blank
2. Down To The Wire
3. A Chip On Your Shoulder
4. Hold Your Horses
5. Let The Cat Out Of The Bag
6. On The Same Page
7. Night Owl
8. The Early Bird Gets The Worm
9. A Dime a Dozen
10. All Bark and No Bite
Those are some basic examples. Do you feel like you are starting to understand what a figure of speech is? Well, we are not done yet; I have an idea! Let’s do a quick test. In the sentences and examples below, try to identify the figures of speech. There is no time limit, so feel free to take your time (you can reveal the answers at the end).
Example #1: This word puzzle is driving me bananas! I should take a break and come back to it later.
Show Answer #1
driving me bananas
Example #2: I got a lot done today. There are still a few errands left to do, but I am hitting the hay early instead; I can do the rest tomorrow.
Show Answer #2
hitting the hay
Example #3: I saw a funny video that had me in stitches, but when I showed it to my friend, it was a swing and a miss.
Show Answer #3
in stitches, a swing and a miss
Were you able to find them all? In total, there were four figures of speech in the examples and sentences listed above. If you were able to identify each metaphor, then you probably have a decent grasp on what a figure of speech is by now. If that’s the case, then I want to mention one more thing.
Are Figures of Speech and Idioms Similar?
Do you know what idioms are? Put simply, an idiom is a group of words that have a different definition than what they say. Idioms are similar to figures of speech because they both have a figurative definition. This can be seen in the three examples mentioned earlier, each figure of speech from those examples is also an idiom!
Would you be interested to learn more about them? Well, then have a look at our idiom examples page once you’re through here. Anyway, hopefully by now you have an understanding of what a figure of speech because, you know, that was kind of the point of this entire page. If not, perhaps go back and think about the definition again. And if after that you are still unsure, then I apologize for dropping the ball. Get it? It’s… a figure of speech.