Figurative language applies words through figures of speech, which is the opposite of literal language, which uses words directly according to proper meaning. Figurative language implies a non-literal meaning, which occasionally does not make sense. Figurative language is often found in literature, especially poetry.
Any time one uses language to describe something through comparison, figurative language is in use. Similes and metaphors are the most common types of figurative language, but there are other devices as well. Personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, idioms, and cliches are other forms of figurative language. As many students learn, a simile is a comparison using like or as, while a metaphor is a direct comparison. Personification is giving human qualities to inanimate objects, while onomatopoeia is using words that recreate sounds, like "zounds."
These devices take language in realms of expression that do more than the actual meaning of words. As rhetorical devices, figurative language allow a writer to move beyond the literal and into more subjective forms of language in order to express emotion, or create some special effect. However, while figurative language can create imagery through words, ineffective or clumsy use of it can be confusing, or even a painful example of bad writing.