What is a Metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that denotes a certain object or idea is applied to another word or phrase to imply some similarity between them.

Metaphors, IciclesExamples of Metaphors Using Words and Phrases

  1. The inside of the car was a refrigerator.

    • A refrigerator is very cold. In this example, “refrigerator” is a metaphor because it is being applied to “the inside of the car” to imply that the inside of the car was very cold.

  2. The teenage boy’s stomach was a bottomless pit.

    • A bottomless pit can never be filled. In this example, “bottomless pit” is a metaphor because it is being applied to “the teenage boy’s stomach” to imply that his appetite could never be satisfied (that is, his stomach could never be filled).

Why Use a Metaphor?

Speakers and writers use metaphors for several reasons:

  • Metaphors can help readers or listeners to better understand something about the object or idea to which the metaphor is being applied.
  • Metaphors can make speaking and writing more lively and interesting.
  • Metaphors can communicate a great deal of meaning with just a word or a phrase.
  • Metaphors, because they imply rather than directly state relationships, can get listeners and readers to think about what they are hearing or reading.

Some More Metaphors

Depending on what you are trying to communicate when writing or speaking, just about any word or phrase can be used as a metaphor. Here are some sentences in which a metaphor is used. In each sentence, the metaphor appears in bold print. What the metaphor implies is shown after each sentence.

  1. The teacher got to the bottom of the problem. (This implies that the teacher got to the source of the problem.)
  2. My dad was boiling mad. (This implies that my dad was very, very angry.)
  3. His idea was difficult to swallow. (This implies that his idea was hard to accept.)
  4. The homework was a breeze. (This implies that the homework was very easy to do.)
  5. They showered the birthday girl with gifts. (This implies that they gave the girl many gifts.)
  6. My memory of the event is foggy. (This implies that my memory of what happened was unclear.)
  7. Her dog, Jake, was the sunshine of her life. (This implies that Jake was the brightest or best part of her life.)
  8. Mary stole the spotlight with her performance. (This implies that Mary’s performance made her the center of attention.)
  9. If I were you, I would steer clear of that topic. (This implies that you should stay away from that topic.)
  10. After graduating from college, William decided to market himself as a computer specialist. (This implies that William decided to present himself as a computer specialist when looking for a job.)
  11. Alice was thrilled when her idea began to bear fruit. (This implies that Alice’s idea produced results.)
  12. I knew he was just joking because I could see a smile sprouting from the edges of his lips. (This implies that a smile was forming and growing.)
  13. Helen and Maria hatched a plan to help Maria become president of her class. (This implies that Helen and Maria came up with a plan.)
  14. Each year, a new crop of students entered Harrison High School. (This implies that each year a new group of students entered whose skills and abilities would grow during their years at Harrison.)
  15. The suspect clammed up when the police began to ask him questions about where he had been the night of the crime. (This implies that the suspect shut his mouth and said nothing.)

A Strategy for Using Metaphors

  1. Metaphors, SunsetIdentify the object or idea that is the subject of what you are writing or saying. For example, suppose you are trying to describe a sunset.
  2. Identify what it is you want to communicate about that object or idea. You want to bring out how beautiful the sunset is.
  3. Identify another object or idea that strongly implies what you want to communicate. You decide that the idea of “painted” would be a good way to communicate the beauty of the sunset.
  4. Construct a sentence in which you link the idea of painted with sunset. For example, you could write or say, “The sunset painted the sky with vibrant colors.”

Congratulations! You have just used painted as a metaphor.

Using metaphors when you write and speak will allow you to communicate more effectively and in a more interesting way.