by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content
Figurative language has been ingrained in the language used in daily life. Figures of speech are said to give language a more vibrant and colorful quality, as stated by Palmer and Brooks (2004). In a more everyday context, metaphorsare often used to move the discourse from one subject to another (Drew & Holt, 1998).
Metaphors are going to be the primary subject of this article since they are one of the most popular figurative language devices utilized today. In the following sections, we will cover the definition of a metaphor, its function, and how to write a metaphor. We will also present instances of appropriate metaphors to use in essays and other forms of writing, as well as for spoken communication.
What Is a Metaphor Table of Contents
- What is a metaphor?
- Metaphors vs. Similes
- Types of Metaphors
- The Purposes and Usage of Metaphors
- Metaphor Comprehension in Kids
Language has greatly evolved since its emergence in the early prehistory of man. Through the ages, humans have learned to use words not only to express thoughts and emotions but also to use them in a way that deviates from conventionally accepted definitions and conveys more complicated meanings. The latter is what is often referred to as figurative language. According to American rhetorician John F. Genung, figurative language is an “intentional deviation from the plan and ordinary mode of speaking for the sake of greater effect.”
One of the earliest forms of figurative language still used today is the metaphor. Several studies have explored metaphors as a fixture of human language. Ortony (1929), for instance, suggested that all languages are of metaphorical quality. Likewise, metaphorical concepts have been heavily used in fields such as psychology, sociology, and education (Zhang & Hu, 2009). It is also prevalent in many art forms, often seen as an essential element of writing a book.
This article delves deeper into the concept of the metaphor, its various types, and popular metaphors to shed light on this figure of speech. The following sections also discuss a number of studies exploring good metaphors to use in creative writing, the use of metaphors in various situations and environments outside literature, and metaphor essay examples.
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a figure of speech where a word or phrase denoting one object or idea is used in place of another. Metaphors are often used to suggest a likeness or analogy between these objects or ideas, even when they seem contradictory (Definition of Metaphor, n.d.). Because of their seemingly contradictory nature and ability to add nuance to ideas and concepts, metaphors are often used as literary or rhetorical devices.
One commonly cited example of a metaphor, for instance, is “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” found in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. In this example, Shakespeare establishes points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding of how the world works and human behavior.
In 1937, rhetorician Ivor Armstrong Richards identified two parts or components of a metaphor: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject of the metaphor, the idea to which attributes are ascribed. Meanwhile, the vehicle carries the weight of the comparison and lends the attributes to the tenor. In the above example from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, for instance, the concept of “the world” is ascribed the attributes of a stage; as such, in the said metaphor, “the world” is the tenor while “a stage” is the vehicle.
Metaphors vs Similes
Because of their similar nature, metaphors are most often compared with similes. Both types of figurative language are used to make comparisons between ideas and objects. However, the distinct difference between these two figures of speech lies in their wording: similes contain the words “like” or “as” to create comparisons. Through the use of these words, similes create direct comparisons. Metaphors, on the other hand, imply comparison.
The following is an example of a simile in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” In these lines, love’s potential to inflict pain is compared to a thorn.
Types of Metaphors
Scholarly articles could list anywhere from three to 20 different types of metaphors. The following list includes the most common types of metaphors and metaphors about writing today.
Common metaphors are the most frequently used metaphors today. In common metaphors, the links between objects and ideas can be easily identified and understood. For this reason, these metaphors are also sometimes called direct metaphors, primary metaphors, or conventional metaphors.
Examples of common metaphors include:
- beat a dead horse
- early bird
- couch potato
- heart of gold
- a fish out of water
Unlike common metaphors, implied metaphors do not make a direct comparison. Implied metaphors do not state the comparison outright but instead, hint at the likeness between objects or ideas. These metaphors create more vivid imagery and allow writers to paint a more detailed picture.
The following are examples of implied metaphors.
|Prepaid Plans||Savings Plans|
|Michigan||District of Columbia|
Extended metaphors can be implied or direct, but one quality that sets these metaphors apart is their length. Also called sustained metaphors, these figures of speech get their name from the fact that they extend for several lines, sentences, or even paragraphs. Extended metaphors build upon simpler metaphors, containing multiple linked tenors and vehicles throughout a body of text, such as a poem or a story.
The following example of an extended metaphor can be found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
In this extended metaphor, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun, and the comparison extends over multiple lines.
In sensory metaphors, figurative language is used to appeal to the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. The following are examples of metaphors that help create a clearer picture in readers’ minds:
- Her voice is music to my ears.
- The boy’s smile lit up the room as he opened birthday presents.
- His vanilla preferences in how to write a thesis statement failed to impress the panel.
In mixed metaphors, two or more inconsistent or incongruent metaphors are used together in a sentence. This often results in an unintentional comic effect due to the disparate nature of the elements used in the metaphor. Used intentionally, however, a mixed metaphor can be effective at making a point. However, for the sake of clarity, it is best to avoid the usage of mixed metaphors.
The following are examples of mixed metaphors and corresponding explanations.
Also called a frozen metaphor or a historical metaphor, a dead metaphor is a figure of speech that has lost its connection to the imagery it was meant to evoke due to extensive usage. This means the metaphor is so commonly used that it can be fully understood even without knowledge of its original context.
According to Pawelec (2006), dead metaphors are the result of gradual semantic shifts that occur as a language evolves.
The following are examples of overused metaphors and their origins.
The Purposes and Usage of Metaphors
While metaphors have been described as the fundamental language of poetry (“Metaphor”, n.d.), these figures of speech have been commonly applied in a wide variety of settings and environments. As discussed below, a number of studies have explored the purpose and significance of metaphors in settings such as medicine, health, and business.
Metaphor usage in medicine
A 2020 study by Hommerberg et al explored the use of metaphors such as “battle” and “journey” in Swedish blogs about living with advanced cancer. The study found that, through metaphors, individuals were able to highlight different aspects of their experience. The researchers suggested that awareness of metaphors commonly used by patients can help health professionals develop a common language with patients and subsequently improve the quality of palliative care. As such, it is common to utilize metaphors in communication techniques employed in fields such as public health.
Metaphor usage in politics
Several scholars have studied the use of metaphors in politics. According to Goatly (2011), metaphors can be used to deliberately and consciously construct reality by categorizing certain features as critical and others as noncritical. Moreover, Chilton (2003) asserts that metaphors can be used in political discourse to justify the actions or decisions of those in power.
In a more concrete sense, in 2014, Sahragard and Rasti found that the newspaper The Economist used and manipulated metaphorical scenarios to justify and emphasize the effectiveness of West-backed sanctions against Iran and portray Iran’s nuclear plans as illicit and unwarranted.
Metaphor usage in business and management
In 2013, Hoßfeld studied how companies used metaphors in their own mass communication to prevent resistance to downsizing. Hoßfeld found that companies have approached the threat of resistance to downsizing by using metaphors that suggest conformity with ideas of good or correct management. The analysis further identified persuasive concepts—namely concealing metaphor, euphemistic metaphor, and urgency and control metaphor—that companies use to build a facade of legitimacy for managerial practices. Furthermore, metaphors are common techniques leverages in business management strategies in order to communicate with various workforce groups.
A 2015 study by Rubio-Fernandez and Grassmann suggested that preschool-age children encountered difficulties with understanding metaphors because of their limitations with assigning second labels to concepts. The study, which included children aged three and four, found that only four-year-olds were capable of successfully assigning second labels to objects and understanding metaphors.
These findings can help teachers better understand figurative competence in kids and adjust teaching methods accordingly. For instance, given the difficulties kids encounter in assigning second labels to objects or ideas, teachers may consider using a metaphorical essay with comparisons that are easier to understand. These metaphor examples for kids can involve animals (e.g. “The classroom is a zoo,” “The ballerina was a swan, moving across the stage.”) or nature (e.g. “The boy was a shining star,” “Her long hair was a dark, flowing river.”) to aid comprehension.
Tips on Using Metaphors Correctly
When used correctly, metaphors can provide a number of benefits. These figures of speech can help make concepts more real and tangible, improving understanding. Writers can also use metaphors to create vivid imagery in poetry or prose, maximizing impact on readers. The following tips can help writers create a good metaphor paragraph example and avoid the pitfalls of metaphor usage.
- Objects being compared must have a natural connection. If you want to know how to use a metaphor in an essay the right way, know that it is most effective when the concepts being compared have natural similarities. Avoid forcing similarities to fit an idea.
- Metaphors shouldn’t make a piece of writing unnecessarily complicated. Metaphors should be used to make complex concepts easier to understand. These figures of speech should work to make writing more concise.
- Metaphors should have a purpose. Metaphors should be meaningful. These figures can be used for clarification or emphasis, or to convey the depths of an idea or concept.
- Chilton, P. (2004). Analyzing Political Discourse: Theory and Practice. Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Routledge. Google Books
- Definition of metaphor (n.d.). Merriam Webster.
- Drew, P., & Holt, E. (1998). Figures of speech: Figurative expressions and the management of topic transition in conversation. Language in Society, 27 (4), 495-522.https://www.jstor.org/stable/4168872
- Goatly, A. (2011). The Language of Metaphors. Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Routledge. Google Books
- Keil, F. C. (1986). Conceptual domains and the acquisition of metaphor. Cognitive Development, 1(1), 73-96. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0885-2014(86)80024-7
- Hommerberg, C., Gustafsson, A. W., & Sandgren, A. (2020). Battle, journey, imprisonment, and burden: Patterns of metaphor use in blogs about living with advanced cancer. BMC Palliative Care, 19(59).https://doi.org/10.1186/s12904-020-00557-6
- Hoßfeld, H. (2013). Corporate dieting. Persuasive use of metaphors in downsizing. Management Revue, 53-70. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41783738
- Metaphor | Definition & examples (n.d.).Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Palmer, B. C., & Brooks, M. A. (2004). Reading until the cows come home: Figurative language and reading comprehension. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(5), 370-379.https://www.jstor.org/stable/40017523
- Pawelec, A. (2006). The death of metaphor. Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis, 123, 117–121. Jagiellonian University Repository
- Richards, I. A. (1936). The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford, London: Oxford University Press. Google Books
- Rubio-Fernández, P., & Grassmann, S. (2016). Metaphors as second labels: Difficult for preschool children?Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 45(4), 931-944.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-015-9386-y
- Sahragard, R., & Rasti, A. (2014). Metaphors we (de)legitimize by: Patterns of metaphor use in The Economist. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, 3(3), 90.https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.3n.3p.90
- Zhang, F., & Hu, J. (2009). A study of metaphor and its application in language learning and teaching. International Education Studies, 2(2), 77-81. ERIC