What Is a Metaphor? Definition & 30+ Examples

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance or create a symbolic meaning.

Metaphors are used to make a comparison between two seemingly unrelated things by implying that one thing is another, often to illustrate or emphasize certain qualities or characteristics. They can add depth, color, and vividness to language, helping to create a more engaging and evocative experience for readers or listeners.

Metaphors can be found in literature, poetry, and everyday language. Some metaphors are so common that they have become part of everyday language!

A metaphor is made up of two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject of the metaphor, while the vehicle is the object that is used to describe it.

For example, in the metaphor “Her eyes were diamonds,” the tenor is “her eyes,” and the vehicle is “diamonds.” The use of the word “diamonds” to describe the eyes creates a new and interesting meaning that is not present in the literal interpretation of the sentence.

Metaphors are a powerful tool for writers and speakers to convey complex ideas and emotions in a way that is easy to understand. Understanding metaphors can help readers and listeners to connect with the message being conveyed and to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

The History of Metaphors in Literature

Metaphors have been used in literature for centuries, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, the word “metaphor” comes from the Greek word “metapherein,” which means “to transfer” or “to carry over.”

One of the earliest examples of metaphor in literature can be found in Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey.” In this work, the sea is often referred to as “wine-dark,” a metaphor that conveys the mysterious and unpredictable nature of the sea.

During the Renaissance, metaphors became even more prominent in literature as writers sought to create vivid and imaginative descriptions of the world around them.

William Shakespeare, for example, was known for his use of metaphor in his plays and sonnets. In “Romeo and Juliet,” he famously wrote, “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

In the 20th century, modernist writers such as T.S. Eliot and James Joyce pushed the boundaries of metaphor even further, experimenting with unconventional and abstract forms of language.

For example, in Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” he compares the evening sky to “a patient etherized upon a table,” using a metaphor that is both startling and evocative.

Today, metaphors continue to play an important role in literature, allowing writers to create powerful and memorable images that resonate with readers. From the simple and straightforward to the complex and abstract, metaphors remain a vital tool for writers seeking to convey meaning and emotion through language.

Difference Between Metaphor and Simile

Metaphors and similes are both figures of speech that are used to compare two things that are not alike. While they are similar in some ways, there are also some key differences between the two.

Firstly, a metaphor is a direct comparison between two things that are not alike. It is a statement that one thing is another thing. For example, “Her eyes were diamonds.” This means that her eyes were bright and sparkling like diamonds, but they were not actually made of diamonds.

On the other hand, a simile is a comparison between two things that are not alike using the words “like” or “as”. For example, “Her eyes were like diamonds.” This means that her eyes were similar to diamonds in their brightness and sparkle, but they are not actually diamonds.

Another difference between metaphors and similes is that metaphors are often more powerful and impactful than similes. This is because they create a direct comparison between two things rather than just a similarity.

However, similes can be more effective in certain situations. For example, if you are trying to explain a complex or abstract concept, a simile can help to make it more understandable by comparing it to something more concrete.

Overall, the choice between using a metaphor or a simile depends on the effect you want to create and the message you want to convey.

Types of Metaphor

Standard Metaphor

A standard metaphor is a direct comparison between two things that are not alike. It is the most common type of metaphor and is often used to create vivid images in the reader’s mind.

Examples of standard metaphors include:

  • Life is a journey
  • Love is a rose
  • Time is money

Implied Metaphor

An implied metaphor is a comparison that is not directly stated but is implied through the use of words or phrases. It requires the reader to make a connection between the two things being compared.

  • Example 1: She was a shining star on the stage.
    (Implied metaphor: she was a great performer.)
  • Example 2: He has a heart of gold.
    (Implied metaphor: The person is kind and generous.)

Visual Metaphor

A visual metaphor uses imagery to create a comparison between two things. It is often used in art and advertising to create a memorable image.

  • Example 1: The Nike swoosh
    (Visual metaphor: speed and movement)
  • Example 2: The Apple logo
    (Visual metaphor: knowledge and creativity)

Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is a comparison that is carried throughout a piece of writing or speech. It is often used to create a theme or to develop a complex idea.

  • Example 1: The journey of life
    (Extended metaphor: life is a journey)
  • Example 2: The garden of love
    (Extended metaphor: love is a garden)

Dead Metaphor

A dead metaphor is a metaphor that has become so overused that it is no longer seen as a metaphor. It has become a part of everyday language and is often used without the speaker realizing it is a metaphor.

  • The foot of the bed
  • The eye of the storm

Examples of Metaphors in Literature

Metaphors are commonly used in literature to convey complex ideas and emotions in a concise and vivid way.

Here are some examples of metaphors in literature:

  • William Shakespeare: “As You Like It,” the famous monologue by Jaques, begins with the line, “All the world’s a stage.” This metaphor compares life to a play, with people as actors who play different roles throughout their lives.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The Great Gatsby,” the character Daisy Buchanan is described as having “a voice full of money.” This metaphor compares Daisy’s voice to the sound of wealth and luxury.
  • Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers,” hope is compared to a bird that perches in the soul and sings a tune without words. This metaphor creates a vivid image of hope as a small but powerful force that can bring comfort and joy.

Metaphors to describe abstract concepts or emotions

  • Langston Hughes: “Harlem,” the line “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” compares the deferred dreams of African Americans to a raisin that has lost its moisture and shriveled up. This metaphor conveys the idea that unfulfilled dreams can lead to bitterness and despair.
  • Sylvia Plath: “Metaphors,” the speaker compares her pregnancy to a collection of objects, including “an elephant, a ponderous house, a melon strolling on two tendrils.” This metaphor creates a surreal and unsettling image of the speaker’s experience of pregnancy.

Examples of Metaphors in Advertising

Metaphors are commonly used in advertising to create a memorable and impactful message.

Here are some examples:

  • “You’re in good hands with Allstate” – Allstate Insurance
  • “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” – M&M’s
  • “The ultimate driving machine” – BMW
  • “A diamond is forever” – De Beers

These metaphors use comparisons to make a strong statement about the product or service being advertised.

Allstate’s metaphor implies that their insurance provides a sense of security and protection, while M&M’s metaphor suggests that their candy is both delicious and mess-free. BMW’s metaphor emphasizes the high quality and performance of their cars, while De Beers’ metaphor implies that diamonds are timeless and valuable.

Metaphors can also be used to convey a brand’s message or values. For example, Nike’s slogan “Just do it” is a metaphor for taking action and pushing oneself to achieve greatness. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign used metaphors to suggest that their products were innovative and unique.

Overall, metaphors can be a powerful tool in advertising, helping to create a strong and memorable message that resonates with consumers.

Examples of Metaphors in Everyday Language

Metaphors are often used in everyday language to convey complex ideas or emotions in a simple and relatable way.

Here are a few examples:

  • She has a heart of stone.
  • My love is a red, red rose.
  • He has a sharp tongue.
  • Time is money.

These metaphors are used to convey ideas that might be difficult to express in literal terms. For example, the metaphor “she has a heart of stone” suggests that the person being described is cold and unfeeling. This idea is conveyed more powerfully through the metaphor than through a literal description of the person’s emotional state.

Metaphors can also be used to create vivid imagery and evoke strong emotions. For example, the metaphor “my love is a red, red rose” suggests that the speaker’s love is beautiful, fragrant, and delicate, like a rose. This metaphor creates a powerful image in the reader’s mind and helps to convey the intensity of the speaker’s feelings.

Teaching Metaphor in the Classroom: Strategies and Activities

Metaphors are a great way to engage students in creative thinking and encourage them to use their imaginations. Here are some strategies and activities that you can use to teach metaphors in the classroom:

Introduce the Concept of Metaphors

Start by explaining what a metaphor is and how it differs from a simile. Provide examples of metaphors and ask students to identify the two things being compared. You can also use visual aids, such as pictures or videos, to help illustrate the concept.

Use Metaphors in Literature

Read books or poems that contain metaphors and discuss them with your students. Ask them to identify the metaphors and explain what the author is trying to convey. This will help students understand how metaphors can be used to create imagery and convey meaning.

Create Metaphor Games

Engage students in fun and interactive games that involve creating metaphors. For example, you can play a game where students take turns coming up with metaphors for a given topic, such as emotions or animals. This will help students practice their creative thinking skills and develop their vocabulary.

Use Metaphors in Writing Assignments

Encourage students to use metaphors in their writing assignments. Provide prompts that require the use of metaphors, such as “Describe the feeling of happiness using a metaphor.” This will help students apply what they have learned and develop their writing skills.

Analyze Famous Speeches and Quotes

Explore famous speeches and quotes that use metaphors, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Discuss the metaphors used and how they contribute to the overall message of the speech. This will help students understand how metaphors can be used to persuade and inspire.

By using these strategies and activities, you can help your students understand and appreciate the power of metaphors. With practice, they will be able to use metaphors effectively in their own writing and communication.

Metaphors in Popular Culture

Metaphors are often used in popular culture to convey complex emotions and ideas in a simple and relatable way. They can be found in songs, movies, and TV shows and are often used to create vivid imagery and evoke strong emotions in the audience.


Metaphors are commonly used in song lyrics to convey complex emotions and ideas.

For example, in the song “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar, love is compared to a battlefield, with lines like “We are young, heartache to heartache we stand, no promises, no demands, love is a battlefield.” This metaphor helps to convey the idea that love can be difficult and painful but also rewarding.


Metaphors are also commonly used in movies to create vivid imagery and convey complex ideas.

For example, in the movie “The Matrix,” the world is compared to a computer program, with lines like “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

This metaphor helps to convey the idea that the world we live in may not be what it seems and that there may be deeper truths hidden beneath the surface.

TV Shows

Metaphors are also used in TV shows to create vivid imagery and convey complex ideas.

For example is the TV show “Game of Thrones,” where power is compared to a game, with lines like “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

This metaphor helps to convey the idea that power is a dangerous game where the stakes are high, and the consequences of failure can be deadly.

The Purpose and Function of Metaphors

Metaphors are a powerful tool in language and communication. They allow us to convey complex ideas and emotions in a way that is both concise and evocative. By comparing one thing to another, metaphors create a bridge between the concrete and the abstract, helping us to make sense of the world around us.

Metaphors Make the Unfamiliar Familiar

One of the primary functions of metaphors is to make the unfamiliar familiar. When we encounter a new idea or concept, it can be difficult to understand it in isolation. However, by using a metaphor to relate it to something we already know, we can quickly grasp its meaning and significance.

Metaphors Can Be Used to Convey Emotions

Metaphors can also be used to convey emotion and create a sense of connection with the reader or listener. By tapping into shared experiences and cultural references, metaphors can evoke powerful feelings and create a sense of empathy between the writer and the audience.

Metaphors Simplify Complex Ideas

Another function of metaphors is to simplify complex ideas and make them more accessible. By breaking down complex concepts into smaller, more manageable parts, metaphors can help us to understand and remember information more easily.

Metaphors Create Vivid and Memorable Descriptions

By using language that is rich in imagery and sensory detail, metaphors can transport the reader or listener to another time or place, creating a powerful and lasting impression.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can metaphors be used in everyday conversation?

Yes, metaphors are often used in everyday conversation to make a point or to add color to language. For example, someone might say, “life is a journey,” to convey the idea that life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected events.

Can metaphors be overused?

Yes, like any literary device, metaphors can be overused. If a writer or speaker uses too many metaphors, it can become distracting or even annoying to the reader or listener. It’s important to use metaphors sparingly and only when they add to the overall meaning of the text.

Can metaphors be misunderstood?

Yes, metaphors can be misunderstood if the reader or listener doesn’t understand the comparison being made. It’s important to choose metaphors that are appropriate for the audience and that are clear and easy to understand.


Metaphors are a powerful tool in language, allowing us to convey complex ideas and emotions through simple comparisons. By using a metaphor, we can paint vivid pictures in the minds of our readers or listeners, helping them to better understand and connect with our message.

Throughout this article, we have explored the definition of metaphor and looked at various examples across different contexts. From literature to everyday speech, metaphors are all around us, and by understanding how they work, we can become more effective communicators.

Whether you are writing a novel, giving a speech, or simply having a conversation with a friend, consider using a metaphor to help convey your message. With practice, you can become a master of metaphor, using this powerful tool to connect with your audience and leave a lasting impression.

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Aerielle Ezra is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.