What is the Definition of Metaphor?

Metaphor Definition

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare’s words have a ring of truth, even though they might not be literally true. Metaphors like this one help bring ideas to life. But what is a metaphor?

Metaphors are a type of figurative language. Figurative language uses figures of speech to make written and verbal communication more effective, easier to understand, and more striking. Metaphors are a specific type of figurative language called imagery.

There are seven types of imagery in figurative language. Similes, metaphors, and allusions use non-literal comparisons that illuminate ideas. Personification uses a non-literal comparison exclusively to a person: as in “The leaf danced across the lawn.” Alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia use sounds to create different feelings in the audience than the literal words would normally convey.

Getting back to our specific topic, metaphors are words or phrases that compare two things. Unlike a simile, they do not use the words “like” or “as” to compare the words. Instead, they state that one thing IS another thing. Like in the quote from Shakespeare, the world IS a stage.

Metaphors are used in literature, movies, plays and even in day-to-day speech. You might even find yourself using metaphors without realizing it! Some commonly used metaphors include:

“Love is a battlefield.”

“There is a blanket of clouds.”

“Time is a thief.”

“He is a night owl.”

All these examples compare two things directly. Love is compared to a battle, clouds are compared to blankets, time is compared to a thief, and a man is compared to an owl. Of course, we know that a man is not literally an owl, but the comparison helps us to visualize things in a much more vibrant way. How boring would it be to say “he likes to stay up late at night on a consistent basis.” *Snore!*

Other types of metaphors use indirect comparisons. A couple of examples include:

“Work has dried up.”

“Their ideas are difficult to swallow.”

In these metaphors, you have two steps in the comparison. In the first example, “work” is not being compared to “dried up” but rather to something that can be dried up. You can use your imagination to fill in the comparison. Maybe an empty swimming pool or a dry desert oasis.

Similarly, “ideas” are not being “swallowed”. Ideas are being compared to something you eat that is hard to swallow. Maybe a dry cracker or a peanut butter sandwich.

This type of indirect comparison allows someone to fill in an image with personal experiences. Maybe you have never been to a desert, but you have gone through a hot, dry summer. Maybe you have never eaten a peanut butter sandwich but you have had to swallow a big pill. Making images personal helps draw you into the story and makes it that much more visceral.

Here are some examples of metaphors outside of everyday speech:

In the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake, he expounds on the beauty and danger of the wild tiger.

“Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The first line of the poem says the tiger is “burning bright”. Of course, the tiger is not literally on fire, but this comparison is used as a metaphor to illustrate the tiger’s bright color and even the tiger’s dangerous nature. Like getting burned by a fire, the tiger can be a dangerous beast.

In the novel “A Little Princess”, the author Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote:

“She looked as if she had never had quite enough to eat. Her very eyes were hungry.”

As you can see, metaphors help make language more colorful and easier to understand by bringing new color and life into common objects and ideas.

I hope that this video has helped you understand more about metaphors. Thanks so much for watching. See you guys next time and, as always, happy studying!



by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: January 14, 2021