What Is a Metaphor (with Examples)

Metaphors

A metaphor asserts that one thing is something that it literally is not. A metaphor is a figure of speech.

Easy Examples of Metaphors

  • Paul's face was a blue moon pocked with craters.
  • (Paul's face literally is not a moon.)
  • Her eyes were darting searchlights, scanning the room for her rival.
  • (Her eyes literally are not searchlights.)
  • She is a fox.
  • Dave is a bad apple.
Metaphors are not always easy to spot as they do not always appear in the form [one thing] equals [something that it isn't]. Metaphors are also commonly created with "non-literal" words (especially adjectives and verbs) that appear mid-sentence.
  • She gave him an icy stare.
  • (The stare is not literally icy.)
  • David sliced her down with his words.
  • (David did not literally slice her down.)
  • These waves "know" when you're off balance.
  • (It's acceptable to put quotation marks around a word being used metaphorically, but it's not a common practice. It stems from the use of quotation marks to express the idea of "so-called".)

Real-life Examples of Metaphors

Here are some well-known metaphors:
  • Conscience is a man's compass. (Artist Vincent van Gogh)
  • All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree. (Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein)
Here are some funny metaphors:
  • John and Mary had never met. They were two hummingbirds who had also never met. (Anon)
  • True friends stab you in the front. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.

Why Should I Care about Metaphors?

Using metaphors can bring great benefits, but it also carries a risk.

(Benefit 1) Metaphors can be engaging.

Metaphors are useful for spicing up your writing.
  • We can jumpstart innovation among the workforce.
  • (The metaphor jumpstart is far "spicier" than something like improve.)
  • Please write a protein-rich one-pager for the CEO's back-to-work pack.
  • (The metaphor protein-rich is more engaging than something like executive-level. Personally, I think it's a bit cheesy. More on that below.)

(Benefit 2) Metaphors can aid understanding.

Metaphors are also useful for explaining a new or complex idea by relating it to something familiar.
  • During interphase, the protein binds to DNA with its elbow and then digs in with its fingers during mitosis. (Professor Leonie Ringrose)
  • Our physical being is the hardware of a computer. Culture is the operating system. (Business consultant Christian Höferle)

(Benefit 3) Metaphors can be memorable and impactful.

There is often a strong sensory element to a metaphor (e.g., creating a vivid image in your readers' minds), and this can help to make your writing more memorable and impactful.
  • We must throw a party on our home page.
  • (This is more visual and memorable than "our home page needs to be more interesting".)
  • Red Bull gives you wings.
  • (This is more visual and memorable than "caffeine acts as a central-nervous-system stimulant".)

(Risk 1) Metaphors can portray you as flippant, dull or cheesy.

The overuse of metaphors can portray you as flippant (especially in business writing). A tired metaphor can portray you as dull, and a "business bingo" metaphor can portray you as cheesy.
  • No more putting lipstick on a pig. I need more thinking outside of the box, more blue-sky thinking. I need an idea with legs, an idea on steroids.
  • (While such terms might be dull and cheesy, they can be an efficient way to communicate, particularly for quick understanding. The best advice is to keep such terms for informal chats or emails. Don't put them in your official business correspondence, and don't use them in creative writing – they're no longer creative.)
Use only fresh, appropriate metaphors and use them sparingly (especially in business writing) to reap the benefits.
Interactive Test
 
 

See Also

What is figurative language? What does literal meaning mean? What is a simile? What is personification? What is hyperbole? What is an idiom? What is a euphemism? What is alliteration? What is assonance? What is consonance? What is a logosglyph? What is onomatopoeia? Glossary of grammatical terms