Proverbial vs figurative—which is it? Is raining cats and dogs a proverbial or figurative phrase? And how can you remember the difference?
That depends on the familiarity or elaborateness of your expression. Follow these grammar tips so that you always know if it’s proverbial vs figurative before you speak or write.
What Does Proverbial Mean?
Before we discuss what proverbial means, let’s first take a look at the meaning of proverb. According to the dictionary, a proverb is a short, well-known saying that effectively expresses a conventional truth or commonplace thought.
Here are some examples of proverbs:
- Out of sight, out of mind
- Let bygones be bygones
- Rome was not built in a day
Proverbial is the adjective form of the word proverb. We can deduce that proverbial means relating to a proverb, embodying the characteristics of a proverb or resembling a proverb.
- Curiosity killed the proverbial cat
- Those students are proverbial leaves without figs
- As the proverbial saying goes, time is money.
What Does Figurative Mean?
Figurative language focuses on using descriptive phrases and sentences to convey an idea or message that means something other than what is literally being said. In other words, figurative language uses creative imagery, often applying sensory descriptors, to express a complex or abstract idea so that it’s relatable to readers or listeners.
Figurative language can be used to:
- Describe ideas that are difficult to understand
- Provide descriptions that are easier to visualize
- Compare to unlike ideas in order to elevate the understanding of one of those ideas
- Create an emotional connection with the audience
Figurative language can be conveyed in a variety of ways. Here are the most common ways to use figures of speech in your writing or in conversation:
Figurative is synonymous with metaphorical, so figurative is an adjective meaning metaphorical in nature. Simply put, figurative goes beyond the basic understanding or the dictionary definition of what’s being said without relying on a catchphrase to convey its meaning.
- His smile is a figurative rainbow
- I am so hungry that I would eat a figurative house
- My aunt has a figurative green thumb
Proverbial vs Figurative: How to Remember the Difference
So, how do you remember when it’s proverbial vs figurative? It all depends on if you’re talking or writing about a proverb or applying figurative language.
If you are about to convey a commonplace idiom or proverb, the correct adjective to use in your sentence is proverbial.
If you are about to apply a figure of speech or figurative language, the correct adjective to use in your sentence is figurative.
Keep in mind that it is possible to include both a proverb and figurative language within your communication, so make sure that you apply the correct adjective based on its placement within your conveyed thought.