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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 figuratively
  • It can throw one's whole life out of kilter, literally and figuratively.
  • On closer inspection it wasn't in the literal sense, figuratively though.
  • Oh and let's not get into the rear seats, physically or figuratively.
  • They will figuratively clash in a dust cloud at second base.
  • Check out a video of it figuratively smoking a four-stroke below.
  • And the film, which bites its lip until the final scenes, figuratively bursts into tears.
  • figuratively, one who follows up an enemy with pertinacity.
  • And chiefly for this reason: it is an attempt to use a boat on land, or a wagon on water, to speak figuratively.
  • He had now figuratively as well as literally taken home his bride.
  • It's a mouthful, figuratively, and yet still that is remarkably simplified from the actual processes that take place.
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 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 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
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