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[fig-yer-uh-tiv] /ˈfɪg yər ə tɪv/
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 figurate, -ive); replacing Middle English figuratif < Middle French
Related forms
figuratively, adverb
figurativeness, noun
nonfigurative, adjective
nonfiguratively, adverb
nonfigurativeness, noun
semifigurative, adjective
semifiguratively, adverb
semifigurativeness, noun
unfigurative, adjective
unfiguratively, adverb
unfigurativeness, noun
Can be confused
figuratively, literally, virtually (see usage note at literally) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for figurative
  • The future would be characterized not by the literal but only the figurative war of ideas.
  • In turn, those perceptions can enhance colleges' literal and figurative fortunes.
  • It reveals the oldest known figurative paintings in the world.
  • His political office also pinched him, in a figurative way.
  • As a figurative painter coming up in an age of abstraction, he had the appeal of the eccentric.
  • In considering this problem, he suggests that one builds a figurative box.
  • Nearly every word presents a concrete meaning, clearly visible even through a figurative use.
  • figurative usage is frequently the starting point of a permanent change in sense.
  • Her métier was brightly coloured pictures with dark angry lines, part abstract, part-figurative.
  • He implies that this level of figurative ornament is a kind of self-censorship by simile.
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 Forms
figuratively, adverb
figurativeness, 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
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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
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