Metaphor Examples: Understanding Meaning and Purpose

What is a metaphor? Simply put, a metaphor is a figure of speech containing an implied comparison. With metaphors, words or phrases that are ordinarily applied to one type of item or concept are applied to something that is not ordinarily associated with that terminology. Explore metaphor examples to better understand the meaning and purpose of this literary term.

flame and sunset illustrations with metaphor examples flame and sunset illustrations with metaphor examples

Metaphor Meaning

Metaphors are figures of speech that are not true in a literal way. They're not lies or errors, though, because metaphors are not intended to be interpreted literally. They are a type of figurative language intended to convey a different meaning than the literal denotative meaning of the word or phrases used. They are used in creative writing like poems and novels, as well as other types of writing, speeches and ordinary conversations.

Purpose of Metaphors: Illustrated Comparisons

Metaphors are used in communication to help illustrate or explain something by comparing it to something else. Metaphors serve several functions:

  • help people vividly visualize unfamiliar concepts
  • explain unfamiliar situations meaningfully
  • add variety and interest to a person's writing or conversations
  • create strong images and leave lasting impressions
  • pair the intangible with the literal
  • impact readers and audience members

Metaphor Examples

Metaphors are illustrations that make a strong point by comparing two things you wouldn't necessarily pair together.

Metaphors About Emotions

Metaphors can be useful in expressing the extent or type of feelings a person is experiencing.

  • His words cut deeper than a knife. Words don't materialize into sharp objects. In this metaphor, someone has said something hurtful to another.
  • I feel the stench of failure coming on. Failure isn't fun but it doesn't smell. So, when this metaphor is used, it means one of life's disappointments is on the way.
  • I'm drowning in a sea of grief. Here, grief is so overwhelming that the person feels helpless, like they're being pulled underwater.
  • I'm feeling blue. Until we become like the little girl in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, none of us are likely to turn as blue as a blueberry. This metaphor means someone is sad.
  • She's going through a rollercoaster of emotions. Our emotions can't take a ride on a rollercoaster. This metaphor simply means the person's going through a lot of different moods.

Metaphors Describing Behavior

Metaphors are often used to describe behavior.

  • I think he's about to fade off to sleep. Fortunately, none of us fade into thin air when we fall asleep. This expression simply means that someone has drifted into a state of slumber.
  • He really flared up my temper. When someone flares up your temper, flames don't spew out of your body, you're just deeply angry.
  • He reeks of infidelity. When this is said about a cheating partner, it doesn't mean there's an actual odor. This metaphor is saying it's obvious the person is a liar and a cheat.
  • She was fishing for compliments. The woman isn't literally casting a lure to hook compliments out of the ocean. Rather, it's a dead metaphor used to signify a desire for accolades.
  • She has such a bubbly personality. No one's personality can bubble up like a glass of champagne. This metaphor is used to signify someone who's especially cheerful.

Metaphors About Love and Heartbreak

Conversations about love and loss are often filled with metaphors.

  • He broke my heart. Your heart isn't literally broken; you're just feeling hurt and sad.
  • He is the apple of my eye. There is, of course, no apple in someone's eye. The apple is someone held dear.
  • It's raining men. "Hallelujah!," sang The Weather Girls. No, men don't literally pour from the sky. This simply indicates that a lucky lady has a lot of male suitors.
  • Love is fire. Of course, love isn't literally fire. But, for someone seeking to explain a love that is both passionate and dangerous, this can be an effective metaphor.
  • You light up my life. Of course, no one can provide physical light. This expression famously used by singer Debby Boone is simply saying that someone brings them joy.

Metaphors About Setting

Sometimes a metaphor is the best way to convey what the setting is like.

  • The curtain of night fell upon us. The evening did not develop into a velvet curtain. It just got dark outside. Simple words are used to paint a colorful picture of how quickly night arrived.
  • The moonlight sparkled brighter than a gypsy. The moonlight didn't transform into a colorful gypsy. Rather, it lit up the night with sparkling radiance.
  • The sun is a creature of habit. The sun, of course, is not a creature at all. However, this metaphor conveys the pattern and repetition of sunrise and sunset.
  • Warmth blanketed the area. While temperature can't be thrown over an area the way a blanket can, it can settle in and stay in place over a widespread area.
  • The cold air pierced his skin. While cold can't actually cut through a person's skin, this metaphor describes the biting feel of extremely cold temperatures.

Popular Sayings as Metaphors

Some popular sayings (clichés) are metaphors.

  • Time is a thief. Fortunately, time doesn't put on a ski mask and lurk around dark corners. This metaphor illustrates the point that time seems to pass quickly and our lives flash by.
  • Success is a sense of achievement; it is not an illegitimate child. This saying reinforces the belief that everyone wants to take credit for success, but no one wants to take responsibility for their failings.
  • This is the icing on the cake. While cake may always be welcome, cake with icing is even better. This means something wonderful has happened to make a good situation even better (or worse, depending on context).
  • Hope is on the horizon. Hope is an intangible thing that doesn't bob along the horizon. This metaphor indicates good things are in one's future.
  • Life contains nothing but clear skies up ahead. This metaphor refers to a life devoid of disaster and heartache.

Types of Metaphors

Just as there are many ways to paint metaphorical pictures, there are many different types of metaphors. Popular forms include.

  • Absolute Metaphors - These metaphors compare two things that have no obvious connection in order to make a striking point. For example, "She's walking a tightrope with her grades this semester."
  • Dead Metaphors - Like clichés, these metaphors have lost their punch through over-usage. Discover examples of dead metaphors.
  • Extended Metaphors - These are lengthy metaphors intended to create deep comparisons. Review a selection of extended metaphor examples.
  • Implied Metaphors - These metaphors compare two things without using specific terms. There are many examples of implied metaphors.
  • Mixed Metaphors - These metaphors jumble comparisons together, often without any logic. For example, "In the heat of the moment, she turned to ice and danced to the beat of her own drum."
  • Root Metaphors - These metaphors are so rooted in everyday language and assumptions, we hardly even recognize them as metaphors. The phrase "Life is a journey" is an example.

Learn More About Metaphors

From elementary school children to professional authors and public speakers, everyone needs to understand what metaphors are and how they can be used to enhance written and spoken communication. There are many metaphor examples for kids that can help young learners understand and discover how to use metaphors. Expand your knowledge by discovering the difference between metaphor, analogy and simile. Then, it's time to make sure you understand the difference between idiom vs. metaphor.