Difference Between

Difference between Literal And Figurative

In the world of language and communication, words can take on multiple forms and meanings. The distinction between literal and figurative language is essential to understanding how we express our ideas and emotions.

In this article, we will explain the key differences between literal and figurative language, analyzing how these forms of expression enrich our speech and shape our understanding of the world around us.

Difference between literal and figurative

What is the Difference between Literal And Figurative?

What is Literal?

Literal language refers to communication in which words and phrases are used in their precise and direct sense, without interpretations or figurative connotations.

In other words, literal language communicates information objectively and unambiguously.

For example, when we say “the sky is blue” or “my house has four rooms,” we are using literal language, since these statements are based on concrete facts and do not lend themselves to symbolic or figurative interpretations.

Literal language is essential for accurate and effective communication in situations such as science, mathematics, technical reports, and many everyday conversations.

What is Figurative?

Figurative language, unlike literal language, is based on the use of metaphors, comparisons, symbolism and expressions that go beyond their literal meaning. In figurative language, words and phrases acquire symbolic meanings or connotations that go beyond their literal interpretation. This is done to convey ideas, emotions or concepts in a more vivid, expressive or artistic way.

For example, the expression “break the ice” is a figurative use of language, since it does not refer to the actual action of breaking the ice, but to starting a conversation or relationship in a friendly manner. Another common example is the metaphor “an ocean of tears,” which is used to describe overwhelming sadness, but does not imply that there is literally an ocean of tears.

Figurative language is used widely in literature, poetry, public speech, and everyday conversation to add depth, nuance, and creativity to communication. It allows people to convey ideas more vividly and effectively, as well as allowing subjective interpretation of certain concepts, often enriching the linguistic experience and understanding of the message.

What does it mean in a literal sense?

In the literal sense, an expression or word is interpreted according to its exact and direct meaning, as it appears in a dictionary or according to its specific definition and without adding any figurative, symbolic or contextual interpretation.

 In other words, it is understood strictly, without considering connotations, metaphors or symbolic meanings.

The literal meaning refers to the simplest and most direct meaning of a word or expression in a specific context.

For example, if you say “the cat is on the table”, in a literal sense you are indicating that the cat is physically on the table, without considering any figurative or symbolic interpretation.

Literal Vs Figurative:

Comparative table between literal and figurative

Aspect Literal Language Figurative language
Meaning Precise and direct use of words and phrases. Symbolic, connotative or metaphorical use.
Interpretation It is taken according to its literal definition. It requires interpretation beyond the exact meaning.
Examples “The sun is a star.” “Break the ice” to start a friendly conversation.
Clarity Communicates information clearly and objectively. It can enrich communication, but it can generate ambiguity.
Objectivity It is based on concrete and verifiable facts. It allows you to express emotions and concepts more vividly.
Utilization Common in technical and scientific contexts. Abundant in literature, poetry and everyday conversation.
Exact interpretation It requires less interpretation and is less ambiguous. It requires the listener or reader to interpret the meaning beyond the words.
Additional example “The book is on the table.” “He has a heart of gold” to describe someone kind.

Key difference between literal and figurative?

The main difference between literal language and figurative language lies in how words and phrases are used:

  1. Literal Language : It is used in its precise and direct sense, without interpretations or figurative connotations. Words and phrases in literal language are taken as they are defined in a dictionary and interpreted objectively. Literal language is used to communicate information clearly and unambiguously. Examples of literal language include statements such as “The sun is a star” or “I have two brothers.”
  2. Figurative Language : It is based on the use of metaphors, comparisons, symbolism and expressions that go beyond their literal meaning. In figurative language, words and phrases take on symbolic or connotative meanings that should not be taken strictly literally. It is used to transmit ideas, emotions or concepts in a more vivid, expressive or artistic way. Examples of figurative language include expressions like “break the ice” (to start a friendly conversation) or “a flood of tears” (to describe overwhelming sadness).


In short, literal language adheres to the exact meaning of words, while figurative language uses metaphors and symbolism to convey ideas more expressively and creatively. Both types of language are important in communication, and the choice between one or the other depends on the context and purpose of the communication.

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