What is the difference between two these terms? Are they interchangeably used? Because when I sometimes look at the dictionary, I see this term, figurative, attached to some words which can be used in a figurative way.

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    It is not surprising that you see the term figurative used to describe words that can be used in a figurative way! Most English language thesauruses provide figurative as a synonym of metaphorical, so in most cases they can be used interchangeably. Did you consult a thesaurus? Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 18:56
  • @P.E.Dant A thesaurus lists similar words, but that doesn't always mean they're synonyms! While the words are very similar, they are not quite identical, and none of my dictionaries list them as synonyms. Merriam-webster online's definition 2a is considered a synonym, but there is also 2b which is relevant to this context, which is not interchangeable with metaphorical.
    – user57618
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:19
  • @Lijero If a word is a synonym of another word, it's almost or completely identical to the other word in a certain sense. My thesaurus lists the two words as synonyms, and the OED treats them pretty much as synonyms in certain senses. At any rate, there aren't that many "true" or "absolute" synonyms, and even then the difference is in collocations/register/dialect/etc. Nevertheless, I concede that thesauri often play fast and loose with the word synonym.
    – user3395
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:34
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    @userr2684291 Thesauruses exist to assist writers and scrabble players. They aren't meant to be "serious" research sources, I think. Our questioner could spend many and many an hour scrutinizing the differences between the two words, but it is their similarity that is the core of his question. In common parlance, when someone says "I'm speaking figuratively," her meaning is identical to "I'm speaking metaphorically," unless she is a poet or a didact addressing a specific figure of speech. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:58
  • @P.E.Dant I agree. I was simply pointing out the fact that synonym doesn't only mean "identical", but could also mean "almost identical". I believe Lijero here was trying to say the opposite – that since (oh no) they're not entirely identical, they aren't synonyms and, consequently, their dictionaries (thesauri?) don't list them as such. My final remark goes further than that; what I was trying to say is that thesauri often extend the definition of synonym even beyond the one described above.
    – user3395
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Yes, they are. The two words may have different connotations, since metaphor sometimes can refer to phrases like a sea of troubles specifically (as opposed to organized chaos, an example of oxymoron, or cheeks like roses, an example of simile), but figurative and metaphorical are generally interchangeable.

  • Actually similes (and analogies) are a kind of metaphor (see english.stackexchange.com/questions/3868/… ), but overall this answer is correct.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:20
  • How do you suggest I correct it, then?
    – user57618
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:21
  • I don't know if it's necessary, since my comment is more of an FYI than any criticism. I remember (long ago) my high school English teacher also told me that a simile is not a metaphor so I was surprised to learn that this is not necessarily true, and "metaphor" is an umbrella term for all such figurative comparisons or substitutions.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:50
  • @Andrew This issue also came up on the OP's comment thread, so I've changed my answer to discuss typical usage instead of technical truth, albeit perhaps to some cost of readability.
    – user57618
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:53
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    @P. E. Dant I think it is the same thing when you say they are synonyms or interchangeably used. No, I am not just learning to read and speak, but to be a good writer. Because I am looking forward to writing a book in English, And i want to know grammatically every thing of English language. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 21:35

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