Reading for Thinking - Online Practice
Understanding Figurative Language

Copyright 2008 © Laraine Flemming. Permission to copy this material is granted exclusively to instructors and students using textbooks written by Laraine Flemming. General distribution and redistribution are strictly prohibited.

Directions: The underlined statements that appear below all have a figurative, or implied, meaning that goes beyond their literal, or factual, interpretations. For each underlined sentence, pick the statement that best sums up the figurative or inferential meaning. (This exercise is the brain child of Professor Barbara Reall, instructor at the Community College of Rhode Island.)

1. Two women were talking about a third woman's fiancé, whom they both disliked, considering him rude, inconsiderate, and, worst of all, dishonest. When one woman said she was going to tell their friend what she thought of the fiancé, the other woman said "You can forget that idea. When you're in love, even a cliff looks like a meadow." (African proverb)
What is the figurative meaning of the underlined statement?
a. People in love are willing to overcome any obstacle in order to be together.

b. People who have the right attitude are more likely to have good relationships.
c. When people are in love, they don't see things realistically.

2. Two lawyers were talking about an exceptionally gifted colleague who, after a string of victories, lost a big case. They both seemed puzzled by the man's unexpected defeat. Then one of them shrugged and said "Hey, You know what? Even monkeys fall out of trees." (Japanese proverb)
What is the figurative meaning of the underlined statement?
a. Anyone who is successful very early in life is bound, at some point, to fail.

b. Even those who are very gifted at what they do can still make a mistake.
c. Fraud and deception can bring people success some of the time but not always.

3. At the end of his tenure in office, President Lyndon Baines Johnson felt himself to be under attack on all sides due to his handling of the U.S. role in the Vietnam war. He was also convinced that the journalists who reported on his office would not give him a break. In a fury at the press, Johnson insisted: "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'"
What is the figurative meaning of the underlined statement?
a. Johnson meant that all his great accomplishments as president were persistently ignored.

b. No matter what great things Johnson did, they were bound to be negatively interpreted by the press.
c. In Washington, people would always dislike Johnson no matter what great things he accomplished for society.

4. Asked if he considered Washington a friendly place, President Harry Truman said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
What is the figurative meaning of the underlined statement?
a. Truman was suggesting that dogs make wonderful pets.

b. Truman was suggesting that Washington is a tough town, one where it doesn?t pay to think anyone is your friend.
c. Truman was suggesting that taking a dog for a walk is a good way to meet people.

5. A young man who had failed at an Internet venture for which he had borrowed money was complaining to his father about his debts. His father listened for a while and then said, "Cheer up. After all, you know what the Chinese say, A fall into a ditch makes you wiser."
What is the figurative meaning of the underlined statement?
a. People can learn a lot from bad experiences.

b. When people become too proud of their accomplishments, it's good for them to experience failure.
c. Making a lot of mistakes when you are young makes you much wiser when you get older.

Last change made to this page: 10/13/08

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