Figurative Expression

In traditional analysis, words in figurative expressions connote additional layers of meaning, while words in literal expressions denote what they mean according to common or dictionary usage. When the human ear or eye receives the message, the mind must interpret the data to convert it into meaning.

What are Figuratives? On many occassions, the words may not convey the literal meaning of them. They may convey the indirect meanings which may be just the opposite to their literal meanings. Such symbolical and metaphorical meanings are called Figuratives. They contain the figure of speech.

Let us see few hundreds of such Figuratives here.The Figuratives have been arranged in the alphabetical order. Go to the list by clicking that particular page.

Let us see few examples of Figuratives to make the point clear.


The Phrase
Yellow Press does not give the literal meaning that the press which is in Yellow color.On the contrary, it conveys the meaning of The News Papers which publish sensational and unscrupulous stories about crime, sex etc...


The Phrase
In the same boat does not convey the literal meaning. It has the figurative meaning that in the same misfortune or circumstances.

Here is the list of Figurative Expressions beginning with


To raise Cain – to rebuke severely


To take the cake – to take the first prize; to be the best of the lot


To burn the candle at both ends – to expend energy in two directions at the same time

The game is not worth the candle – The undertaking is not worth the trouble


To paddle your own canoe – to be responsible for your actions; to act independently


If the cap fits, wear it – If you think the remarks made refer to you, then act accordingly

To go cap in hand – to beseech in a humble manner


Capital punishment – the death sentence or penalty

Capital ship – a warship of the most powerful kind


To put the cart before the horse – to do first what ought to be done afterwards, to reverse the proper order of things


To let the cat out of the bag – to expose the trick; to let out the secret

To fight like cats and dogs – to be always quarrelling and fighting

Care killed the cat – Don’t worry and fret yourself to death

See which way the cat jumps – Sit on the fence; see how things are likely to turn out before deciding on a course of action

To rain cats and dogs – to rain incessantly

He is a cat’s paw – one used as a tool to do something dangerous (In the fable the Monkey used the Cat’s paw to pull chestnuts out of the fire.)


To catch one’s eye – to attract attention


To give a sop to Cerberus – to appease someone by gift or bribe, to bribe

(Cerberus was a three-headed dog supposed to guard the entrance to Hades and prevent the dead from escaping. When a person died, the Romans used to put a cake in his hand as a sop to Cerberus.)


To take the chair – to preside at a meeting


To ring the changes – to be continually making alterations and trying new methods


Chauvinism – absurd patriotism which manifests itself in warlike conduct

(From Nicholas Chauvin, a soldier ardently devoted to Napoleon.)


She is no chicken – She is older than she says, or appears to be

Chicken-hearted – weak, timid, cowardly

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched – Don’t calculate your gains before they are realized


A chip of the old block – a son resembling his father in face, disposition, habits etc


Chock full – full to overflowing


Hobson’s choice – no alternative; take what you are offered or none at all

(Hobson, a Cambridge livery – stable keeper, used to hire out horses, but insisted that the customer should take the first horse nearest the stable door, or none at all.)


To pick and choose – to make a careful selection


A Cicerone – a guide who takes strangers and tourists over a country and explains to them all the curiosities and features of the place

(Cicero, the Roman orator, had an easy, flowing style.)


Cimmerian darkness – profound darkness


To square the circle – to attempt something impossible


Close fisted – mean, miserly


Every cloud has a silver lining – Adverse conditions to not last for ever; brighter days are usually in store

To have one’s head in the clouds –to live in dreamland


To live in clover; to be in clover – to be living in great luxury


To carry coals to Newcastle – to do anything superfluous or unnecessary

(Newcastle, a great coal port in England.)

To haul over the coals – to scold severely, to reprimand

To heap coals of fire – to return good for evil


The coast is clear – The danger is past: there is no danger of interference


Cut your coat according to your cloth – Live within your income; make what you posses serve your needs


A cock and bull story – a foolishly incredible story

To be cock-sure – to be absolutely certain; extremely self-reliant


To throw cold water upon anything – to discourage effort

To give the cold shoulder – rebuff, to treat with indifference


Off colour – not in the usual form

To show one’s colours – to reveal one’s true intentions by no longer pretending

To come off with flying colours – to succeed brilliantly


To commit to memory – to learn by heart


Too many cooks spoil the broth – When there are more workers than necessary they are likely to get in each other’s way and the result is apt to be a failure


To send to Coventry – to boycott; to refuse to be on familiar terms or to have any dealings with some one


An admirable Crichton – a very talented person


Crocodile tears – hypocritical tears


By hook or crook – by fair means or foul


As the crow flies – in a direct line, the shortest distance between two points


To take up the cudgels – to champion or fight for someone


To curry favour- to seek flavour by flattery


Cut and dry – ready made

To cut a dash – to make an impression

A cut – throat – a murderer

Figurative Expressions Index

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