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 figuratively

Contemporary Examples of figuratively

Historical Examples of figuratively

  • I also was too indolent--truly, not figuratively; the book was never written.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • Also figuratively: bld wde sprang (his repute spread afar), 18.



  • I am not a devil, but only a sinful woman who has lost her way, not figuratively but literally!'

    Father Sergius

    Leo Tolstoy

  • The tug at his bits turned Henry's head, literally and figuratively.

    Cy Whittaker's Place

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • I'm caught with the goods on, literally, figuratively, and I've got to pay the penalty.


    Louis Joseph Vance

British Dictionary definitions for figuratively



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 figuratively



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