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figurative

[fig-yer-uh-tiv]
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adjective
  1. of the nature of or involving a figure of speech, especially a metaphor; metaphorical and not literal: The word “head” has several figurative senses, as in “She's the head of the company.”
  2. metaphorically so called: His remark was a figurative boomerang.
  3. abounding in or fond of figures of speech: Elizabethan poetry is highly figurative.
  4. representing by means of a figure or likeness, as in drawing or sculpture.
  5. representing by a figure or emblem; emblematic.
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Origin of figurative

1350–1400; Middle English < Late Latin figūrātīvus (see figure) + -ive; replacing Middle English figuratif < Middle French
Related formsfig·ur·a·tive·ly, adverbfig·ur·a·tive·ness, nounnon·fig·ur·a·tive, adjectivenon·fig·ur·a·tive·ly, adverbnon·fig·ur·a·tive·ness, nounsem·i·fig·ur·a·tive, adjectivesem·i·fig·ur·a·tive·ly, adverbsem·i·fig·ur·a·tive·ness, nounun·fig·ur·a·tive, adjectiveun·fig·ur·a·tive·ly, adverbun·fig·ur·a·tive·ness, noun
Can be confusedfiguratively literally virtually (see usage note at literally)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for figurative

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • But these miscellaneous and figurative forces are not what we are considering.

  • Plato's account of the soul is partly mythical or figurative, and partly literal.

    Timaeus

    Plato

  • With this figurative expression Mattha settled himself for the drive.

  • He clung hard to one—Powell says, with no figurative intention.

    Chance

    Joseph Conrad

  • It was no figurative expression to say that he kept open house.

    Jack Hinton

    Charles James Lever


British Dictionary definitions for figurative

figurative

adjective
  1. of the nature of, resembling, or involving a figure of speech; not literal; metaphorical
  2. using or filled with figures of speech
  3. representing by means of an emblem, likeness, figure, etc
  4. (in painting, sculpture, etc) of, relating to, or characterized by the naturalistic representation of the external world
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Derived Formsfiguratively, adverbfigurativeness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for figurative

adj.

late 14c., from Old French figuratif "metaphorical," from Late Latin figurativus, from figurat-, past participle stem of figurare "to form, shape," from figura "a shape, form, figure" (see figure (n.)). Of speech, language, etc., "involving figures of speech," from 1845. Related: Figuratively.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper