Metaphor Definition and Examples (2024)

A metaphor is atrope or figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common. A metaphor expresses the unfamiliar (the tenor) in terms of the familiar (the vehicle). When Neil Young sings, "Love is a rose," the word "rose" is the vehicle for the term "love," the tenor.

The wordmetaphoritself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek term meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." Metaphors "carry" meaning from one word,image, idea, or situation to another.

Conventional Metaphors

Some people think ofmetaphorsas little more than the sweet stuff of songs and poems—such as love is a jewel, a rose, or a butterfly. But people use metaphors in everyday writing and speaking. You can't avoid them: They are baked right into the Englishlanguage.

Calling a person a "night owl" or an "early bird" is an example of a commonorconventional metaphor—one that mostnative speakersreadily understand. Some metaphors are so prevalentthat you may not even notice that theyaremetaphors. Take the familiar metaphor of life as a journey. You can find it in advertising slogans:

"Life is a journey, travel it well."
—United Airlines
"Life is a journey. Enjoy the Ride."
"The journey never stops."
—American Express

Many other categoriesof metaphors enhance the English language.

Other Types

Metaphor types range from conceptual and visual to dead metaphors, which lose their impact and meaning due to overuse. (You might say, metaphorically, they are done todeath.) A specific type of metaphor is even used in psychological counseling. Following are the main types of this figure of speech:

Absolute:a metaphor in which one of the terms (thetenor) can't be readily distinguished from the other (thevehicle). Your Dictionarynotes that these metaphors compare two things that have no obvious connection but are joined to make a point such as: “She is doing a tightrope walk with her grades this semester.” Of course, she is not a circus performer, but the absolute metaphor—tightrope walk—clearly makes the point about the precarious nature of her academic standing.

Complex:a metaphor in which theliteral meaningis expressed through more than one figurative term (a combination of primary metaphors). The websiteChanging Mindssays that a complex metaphor occurs where a simple metaphor is based on a "secondary metaphoric element," such as using the term "light" to indicate understanding, as in the sentence "Hethrew lighton the subject." Changing Minds also gives these examples:

  • That lends weight to the argument.
  • They stood alone, frozen statues on the plain.
  • The ball happily danced into the net.

Conceptual: ametaphor in which one idea (orconceptual domain) isunderstood in terms of another—for example:

Read MoreDiscover the Many Types of MetaphorsBy Richard Nordquist
  • You'rewastingmy time.
  • This gadget willsaveyou hours.
  • I don'thavethe time togiveyou.

In the last sentence, for example, you can't actually "have" or "give" time, but the concept is clear from the context.

Creative: an original comparison thatcalls attention to itself as a figure ofspeech. It is also known as apoetic, literary, novel, orunconventional metaphor, such as:

"Her tall black-suited body seemed to carve its way through the crowded room."
—Josephine Hart, "Damage"
"Fear is a slinking cat I find / Beneath the lilacs of my mind."
—Sophie Tunnell, "Fear"
"The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough."
—Ezra Pound, "In a Station of the Metro"

A body can't "carve" anything, fear is not a slinking cat (and no mind contains lilacs), and faces are not petals, but the creative metaphors paint vivid pictures in the reader's mind.

Extended:a comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem. Many lyrical writers use extended metaphors, such as this drawn-out circus image by a best-selling author:

"Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently, I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cartwheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a co*ke, bliss out, cool down."
—Dean Koontz, "Seize the Night"

Dead:a figure of speech that has lost its force and imaginative effectiveness through frequent use, such as:

"Kansas City isoven hot, dead metaphor or no dead metaphor."
—Zadie Smith, "On the Road: American Writers and Their Hair"

Mixed:a succession of incongruous or ludicrous comparisons—for example:

"We'll have a lot of new blood holding gavels in Washington."
—Former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), in theSavannah Morning News, Nov. 3, 2010
"That's awfully thin gruel for the right wing to hang their hats on."
—MSNBC, Sept.3, 2009

Primary:A basic intuitively understood metaphor—such as knowing is seeingor time is motion—that may be combined with other primary metaphors to produce complex metaphors.

Root:Animage,narrative, or fact that shapes an individual's perception of the world and interpretation of reality, such as:

"Is the whole universe a perfect machine? Is the society an organism?"
—Kaoru Yamamoto,"Too Clever for Our Own Good: Hidden Facets of Human Evolution"

Submerged:a type of metaphor in which one of the terms (either thevehicleor tenor) is implied rather than stated explicitly:

Alfred Noyes, "The Highwayman"

"The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas."

Therapeutic:a metaphor used by therapists to assist clients in the process of personal, a British website that offers psychotherapy resources and information, gives this example of passengers on a bus:

"You can be in the driving seat, whilst all the passengers (thoughts) are being critical, abusive, intrusive, distracting, and shouting directions, or sometimes just plain nonsense.You can allow those passengers to shout and chatter noisily, whilst keeping your attention focused on the road ahead, heading towards your goal or value."

The metaphor aims to help present someone seeking help with a way to stay focused on what's important by shutting out distracting, negative thoughts.

Visual: the representation of a person, place, thing, or idea by way of a visualimagethat suggests a particular association or point of similarity.Modern advertising relies heavily on visualmetaphors.

For example, in a magazine ad a few years ago for the banking firm Morgan Stanley, a man is pictured bungee jumping off a cliff. Two words serveto explain this visual metaphor: A dotted line from the jumper's head pointsto the word "You," while another line from the end of the bungee cord points to "Us." The metaphorical message—of the safety and security provided by the firm in times of risk—is conveyed through a single dramatic image.

The Value ofMetaphors

We needmetaphors,James Grant wrote in his article "Why Metaphor Matters" published on OUPblog, a website operated by Oxford University Press. Without metaphors, "many many truths would be inexpressible and unknowable." Grant noted:

"Take Gerard Manley Hopkins’s exceptionally powerful metaphor of despair: 'selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and sheterless, / thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.' How else could precisely this kind of mood be expressed? Describing how things appear to our senses is also thought to require metaphor, as when we speak of the silken sound of a harp, the warm colours of a Titian, and the bold or jolly flavour of a wine."

Science advances by the use of metaphors, Grantadded—of the mind as a computer, of electricity as a current, or of the atom as a solar system. Whenusing metaphorsto enrich writing, consider how these figures of speech are more than just ornaments or decorative accessories. Metaphors are also ways of thinking, offering readers (and listeners) fresh ways of examining ideas and viewing the world.


Noyes, Alfred. "The Highwayman." Kindle Edition, Amazon Digital Services LLC, November 28, 2012.

Metaphor Definition and Examples (2024)


What is the definition of a metaphor and examples? ›

With metaphor, the qualities of one thing are figuratively carried over to another. When I say, “Dude, I'm drowning in work,” I'm using qualities associated with one thing—the urgency and helplessness of drowning—to convey meaning for another thing—the work I've got to do. Metaphors are everywhere: He's a couch potato.

What is a metaphor simple answer? ›

A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a non-literal comparison between two unlike things (typically by saying that something is something else). For example, the metaphor “you are a clown” is not literal but rather used to emphasize a specific, implied quality (in this case, “foolishness”).

What is a 5 sentence example of a metaphor? ›

Give some examples of metaphors.

Everyone waited eagerly for her to come up on stage. My mom has a heart of gold. My friend's sister, Sharon, is a night owl. My hands were icicles because of the cold weather.

What are 10 metaphors? ›

Other examples of common metaphors are “night owl”, “cold feet”, “beat a dead horse”, “early bird”, “couch potato”, “eyes were fireflies”, “apple of my eye”, “heart of stone”, “heart of a lion”, “roller coaster of emotions”, and “heart of gold.”

What is a metaphor simple definition for kids? ›

A metaphor is a comparison which is not literally true. It suggests what something is like by comparing it with something else with similar characteristics. For example: 'My brother' is a piglet is a metaphor.

What are the 8 metaphors? ›

In his book, Images of Organization, Gareth Morgan lays out eight metaphors for an organization: machines, organisms, brains, cultural systems, political systems, psychic prisons, instruments of domination, and flux and transformation.

What is a metaphorical in simple words? ›

Something is metaphorical when you use it to stand for, or symbolize, another thing. For example, a dark sky in a poem might be a metaphorical representation of sadness. You'll find yourself using the adjective metaphorical all the time if you take a poetry class; poems are usually full of metaphors.

What is a metaphor vs a simile? ›

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two otherwise dissimilar things, often introduced by the words like or as ('you are like a summer's day'). A metaphor is when a word is used in place of another to suggest a likeness ('you are a summer's day').

What words describe metaphor? ›

Synonyms of metaphor
  • analogy.
  • figure of speech.
  • device.
  • conceit.
  • simile.
  • euphemism.
  • code word.
  • circumlocution.

How to identify a metaphor? ›

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn't literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison. Here are the basics: A metaphor states that one thing is another thing.

Is it's raining cats and dogs a metaphor? ›

Answer and Explanation:

The statement "It's raining cats and dogs" is not a metaphor, which is a comparison of two unlike things. Instead, the phrase is an idiom, which is an expression which taken on a completely different meaning than what it says literally.

How do you put metaphor in a sentence? ›

Both knew that flowers could work as seductive metaphors for other things. He would use metaphors and tell us that we had to figure out what he meant. Perhaps they could be metaphors for one another. The death of the pub is a metaphor for something much bigger and sadder in society at large.

What are 2 good metaphors? ›

A metaphor makes a direct comparison between two unlike things in order to highlight the one (or so) shared quality between those two things. A metaphor outright “calls” or “labels” that one thing as another thing: the heart is gold or stone; the child is a firecracker.

What is a metaphor in real life? ›

A metaphor is a figure of speech used to make a comparison or analogy through phrases and words. For example, a metaphor can compare one thing – such as an action or object – to another, even though it is not the reality, according to Grammarly. For instance, "someone's heart is broken" or "he was drowning in debt."

What is a unique example of a metaphor? ›

It's showtime: it's time to start (something important). These are the dog days of summer: it's too hot but do anything but be lazy and stay cool. You're building castles in the air: you're making unrealistic plans. I was a million miles away: my mind was wandering (another metaphor!).

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor? ›

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two otherwise dissimilar things, often introduced by the words like or as ('you are like a summer's day'). A metaphor is when a word is used in place of another to suggest a likeness ('you are a summer's day').

What is the difference between an analogy and a metaphor? ›

A metaphor uses imagery to evoke an emotion, to feel. An analogy uses comparative imagery to lead to a logical conclusion, to think. A metaphor says a thing is another thing. An analogy compares two divergent terms to draw a reader to a conclusion.

What is the correct definition of a metaphor? ›

1. : a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money)

What is the difference between figurative and metaphorical? ›

Figurative language

Figuratively refers to a metaphor. A metaphor is a direct comparison between two things. So if someone is speaking figuratively, then they are using a comparison for emphasis.

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