Definition of figuratively in US English:



  • 1Used to indicate a departure from a literal use of words; metaphorically.

    ‘we left a lot of people literally and figuratively in the dark’
    sentence adverb ‘I did bump into—figuratively speaking—quite a few interesting people’
    • ‘The curators have figuratively thrown open the doors to the tomb, let in the light, and shaken out clouds of ancient dust.’
    • ‘Earthquakes occur frequently during their visit, reminding them that the ground beneath their feet is extremely shaky, both literally and figuratively.’
    • ‘I'm leaving the subject broad, hoping we can veer off down all kinds of different paths, figuratively and literally.’
    • ‘What is it that viewers are seeing—literally and figuratively—when they see the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Memorial on the screen?’
    • ‘His film nails the primal horror of not knowing what's beneath the surface—literally and figuratively.’
    • ‘After half an hour in a cubicle, I'm ready to climb the walls (figuratively), but it takes days of working up on the scaffold before things grow tiresome.’
    • ‘The good citizens were so enraged that they rose up in arms, figuratively at least, and founded the civic society.’
    • ‘The students are taught to swim with their heads, figuratively speaking.’
    • ‘His escape meant that he had to be figuratively executed, with the result that the people, ideas, and culture associated with him were outlawed and destroyed in his stead.’
    • ‘In any event, we know that after drinking alcohol we often lose direction, literally and figuratively.’
  • 2In a style representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.

    ‘Chinese art influenced her to paint figuratively’
    • ‘Although there has been some buzz of late about young abstract painters in Los Angeles, much of the truly innovative new work has been figuratively based.’
    • ‘At their very core—or lack of a core, both really and figuratively—Picasso's ceramics are three-dimensional repudiations of a certain strain of modernism.’
    • ‘When he painted figuratively, he rarely painted a specific person—it was always a condition, a feeling, or a state.’
    • ‘The ballet is entitled to green hills sprinkled liberally with savage and scarlet (and I mean this more figuratively than simply British works sprinkled with Australian ones).’
    • ‘Here we are cajoled into reading adjacent daubs figuratively, as melting body parts or mutant landscapes.’
    • ‘I liked moving the paint around, and I painted figuratively as an undergraduate student.’
    • ‘She merged her body with nature, often figuratively, by creating silhouettes of her body out of such materials as flowers, rocks, blood, twigs, or earth.’
    • ‘In Chicago, he had already begun to work figuratively and in the relatively "minor" medium of gouache on paper or board.’
    • ‘Working both figuratively and abstractly, in bronze, clay, and various print mediums, he showed in New York at a number of galleries.’
    • ‘Charlie, on the other hand, painted a complete abstract with no attempt to portray anything figuratively.’