What Is an Analogy? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Analogy

An analogy is a comparison of two things to highlight their similarities. (Often the things being compared are physically different, but an analogy highlights how they are alike.)
What is an analogy?

Easy Examples of Analogies

  • Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. (Forrest Gump)
  • Plan A is like ejecting the pilot to make the plane lighter.

Real-life Examples of Analogies

An analogy is commonly presented as a simile or a metaphor.

Analogy in the Form of a Simile

A simile is a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another. These analogies are all similes:
  • The passengers arrive like molasses in January.
  • Men are like bank accounts. More money equals more interest. (Anon)
  • Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa. (Novelist Vladimir Nabokov)
  • The water made a sound like kittens lapping. (Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)
  • O my Luve is like a red, red rose
    that's newly sprung in June;
    O my Luve is like the melody
    that's sweetly played in tune. (Sottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns)
  • Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn. (Playwright William Shakespeare)
  • It's been a hard days night, and I've been working like a dog. (The Beatles)
Read more about similes.

Analogy in the Form of a Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that asserts that one thing is something that it literally is not. These analogies are all metaphors:
  • A singer? She's a crow.
  • Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. (Anon)
  • But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! (Playwright William Shakespeare)
  • All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree. (Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein)
  • Mr. Neck storms into class, a bull chasing thirty-three red flags. (American artist Laurie Anderson)
  • My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations. (Author John Green)
  • Hope is the thing with feathers. (Poet Emily Dickinson)
Read more about metaphors.

analogies as similes and metaphors

Other Types of Analogy

Analogy can also be presented in the form of allegory or a parable.

Analogy in the Form of an Allegory

Often evident in storytelling, allegory is the use of characters and events that represent things in real life (e.g., using characters who represent famous people or concepts such as good and evil, or writing a storyline that mirrors a historical event). For example, in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", Aslan's sacrifice, death and return into the story allegorically refer to Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. In George Orwell's "Animal Farm", Napoleon (a fierce-looking Berkshire boar) is an allegory of Joseph Stalin. In the Forrest Gump quotation "Life is like a box of chocolates", the word chocolates is an allegoric reference to real-life situations (e.g., poverty, wealth, fame).

Analogy in the Form of an Parable

A parable is a short fictional story designed to deliver a moral lesson. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and "The Good Samaritan" are well-known examples.

Why Should I Care about Analogies?

There are two good reasons to care about analogies.

(Reason 1) Snatch a few more points in an English exam.

When studying other people's writing (e.g., for an English exam), you will score points for recognising any analogies used and the type of analogy. If you can weave a sentence like "The gang allegorically represents the Third Reich" into your exam answer, you'll bag a few more marks.

(Reason 2) Convey a new idea succinctly.

Using an analogy can be an interesting and succinct way to convey a new idea. Interest will be created because your readers will consider the connections between the elements in your analogy, and succinctness will be achieved because one of the elements in your analogy will be a well-understood concept, removing the need for a long explanation.

Analogies are common in creative writing, but they can also be useful in business writing to simplify ideas and to make a point memorable.
Top Tip

Used sparingly in business writing (e.g., once in a document), analogies can:
  • Be used to simplify ideas.
  • Be memorable.
  • Be impactful.
Here is an example of an analogy from a business document:
  • The stakeholders' proposal would be the most profitable in the short term, but we'd be building our house on a flood plain.
Don't overuse analogies in business writing, especially similes, which are often witty and therefore inappropriate for a serious business document.
  • A simile must match the tone of its surroundings. Writing a simile that isn't funny on some level is quite hard. (Novelist Ned Beauman)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is irony? What is figurative language? What are similes? What are metaphors?