Definition of figurative in English:



  • 1Departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical.

    ‘a figurative expression’
    • ‘For example, is the term metaphor itself literal or figurative?’
    • ‘Teens comprehend abstract language, such as idioms, figurative language, and metaphors.’
    • ‘A figurative remark takes on literal construction, a metaphor is concretized in fact.’
    • ‘Using it is too much of a literal and figurative headache, and if you get sloppy there's always the danger of nasty results.’
    • ‘The art of urban wall painting is a way of reclaiming lost territory - in both a literal and a figurative sense.’
    • ‘The irony is that in the subsequent stories, so many are living in darkness, both figurative and literal.’
    • ‘It would make his move towards a criticism of absolute time both figurative and literal.’
    • ‘They go there in search of excitement and electricity - in both a figurative and a literal sense.’
    • ‘The downstream effect in this case is both literal and figurative.’
    • ‘Although told that such usage might be metaphorical or figurative, Tess is undeterred.’
    • ‘This second edition is not light reading, neither in the figurative or literal sense.’
    • ‘He was a figure who, in a sense both literal and figurative, dwelt on the fringes.’
    • ‘He loves figurative language, and uses it when describing these relationships, perhaps as a sort of avoidance.’
    • ‘In consequence he thinks that excessive caution has characterized instruction in figurative language.’
    • ‘Plenty of people are "married to their jobs" in a figurative sense.’
    • ‘Particularly when used in a figurative sense to refer to having heard something unpleasant.’
    • ‘Nonetheless, I think that even Philippe's examples expose some risks of figurative usage.’
    • ‘But I just think that figurative usages don't in fact help richness and vibrancy much.’
    • ‘There is no irreducible core of 'literal' language from which 'figurative usage' diverges.’
    • ‘All these restrictions suggest that the country's newfound "sovereign "status is more figurative than literal.’
    metaphorical, non-literal, symbolic, allegorical, representative, emblematic
    View synonyms
  • 2(of an artist or work of art) representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.

    • ‘The standard was derived from the smaller figurative works on some of the larger paintings and then we kept to that.’
    • ‘On the contrary at any given point of time an abstract artist could do figurative work.’
    • ‘Duncan creates elegant female forms and her work is figurative, though not representational.’
    • ‘When I was there they were very much into minimalism, and they felt that figurative work was illustration, not art.’
    • ‘His powerful figurative work has made him one of the foremost British artists of his generation.’
    • ‘The bust was sculpted by internationally-renowned figurative artist Ian Walters.’
    • ‘Currently, she lives in Seattle, Washington where she works as a figurative artist and writer.’
    • ‘As well as figurative work, Mary works on the landscape.’
    • ‘The subject of her work is mostly figurative in nature and is often that of people, especially children, she has encountered in her travels.’
    • ‘In his figurative works he let the figure bulge out of anatomical specifications and proportions.’
    • ‘This balance results in figurative works that communicate in a surprisingly forthright yet nuanced manner.’
    • ‘Born in Spain, she has become a top figurative artist who interprets the everyday world of Spanish women.’
    • ‘Even so, the signature styles of the figurative work are very much in evidence.’
    • ‘Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Mark, is a figurative sculptor working in bronze.’
    • ‘A figurative painter throughout his career, Beckmann depicted the world around him with an unparalleled intensity.’
    • ‘The son of a milkman, his grandmother provided early inspiration, a figurative painter who copied the likes of Turner.’
    • ‘Freud is better known as a figurative painter but his early paintings, often linear in character, owe much to his graphic work.’
    • ‘He was still a figurative painter; he would not make the full leap into abstraction for almost another decade.’
    • ‘But there is a tendency toward abstraction even in figurative painters here.’
    • ‘The city of New York has been an inspiration for figurative painter Hector McDonnell.’


Middle English from late Latin figurativus, from figurare ‘to form or fashion’, from figura (see figure).