Literal and figurative meanings: From concrete to abstract

Words can have a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. In a dictionary, the literal sense of a word is its most basic, concrete meaning. Think of the verb to swim as in to swim in a pool.

But a word can also have a figurative sense. We use it to express ourselves in a more colourful way and to create a stylistic effect. Its meaning is often abstract and used in expressions. For example, "They have so much money, they're swimming in it!" has nothing to do with swimming! To be swimming in something means "to have more than enough of something." In some dictionaries, expressions and figurative senses are followed by the word figurative or the abbreviation fig.

In the sentences below, indicate whether the words in square brackets are used in the figurative or literal sense.

Date modified: 2020-08-27

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