Figurative language


What is figurative language? Why are the following phrases figurative in certain contexts?

The light at the end of the tunnel…

The glass half full.


Figurative language is a general term for a group of linguistic devices called figures of speech (p. 146, Furniss).



A word, phrase or statement is figurative when it cannot be taken literally in the context in which it is being used, for example: “love is blind”, “look before you leap” = could be literal and figurative.

Figurative or not?

The light at the end of the tunnel…

The glass half full.


Well, it all depends upon the context. If you are really in a tunnel and you can see a light in front of you, then it’s not figurative at all but literal, but if you are struggling with a problem and you begin to see how to solve it, you may say a phrase like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, making your language figurative. The same applies with “the glass half full”; you could literally be looking at a glass half full of water, or talking about your situation in life and figuratively describing it that way.


About @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.
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