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.”
metaphorically so called: His remark was a figurative boomerang.
abounding in or fond of figures of speech: Elizabethan poetry is highly figurative.
representing by means of a figure or likeness, as in drawing or sculpture.
representing by a figure or emblem; emblematic.

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) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for figurative

Contemporary Examples of figurative

Historical Examples of figurative

  • 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.



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

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


    Joseph Conrad

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

    Jack Hinton

    Charles James Lever

British Dictionary definitions for figurative



of the nature of, resembling, or involving a figure of speech; not literal; metaphorical
using or filled with figures of speech
representing by means of an emblem, likeness, figure, etc
(in painting, sculpture, etc) of, relating to, or characterized by the naturalistic representation of the external world
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

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper