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 thing are applied to something you wouldn't necessarily pair it with.
Here's a metaphor example: "The curtain of night fell upon us." In this metaphor, the evening did not develop into a velvet curtain. Rather, simple words are being used to paint a colorful picture. Now, we know it is nighttime, but it's been written in a manner that alludes to how quickly night arrived with the kind of darkness that comes from closing a thick curtain.
Metaphors are members of the figurative language family, which also include elements like similes, onomatopoeias, and personification. Let's take a closer look at this prominent branch of the figurative language family tree.
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Types of Metaphors
Just as there are many ways to paint metaphorical pictures, there are many different types of metaphors. Let's take a look at some of the most popular forms:
- Absolute Metaphors - These metaphors compare two things that have no obvious connection, in order to make a striking point. For example, "She is doing a tightrope walk with her grades this semester."
- Dead Metaphors - Like clichés, these metaphors have lost their punch through over-usage. For example, "You light up my life."
- Extended Metaphors - These are exactly as they sound. They're lengthy metaphors that are intended to create deep comparisons, as in this classic example from Romeo and Juliet: "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? 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."
- Implied Metaphors - These metaphors compare two things without using specific terms. For example, "Spending too much time with him is worse than swimming in a sea of sharks."
- 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. You could liken them to dead metaphors or clichés, due to their over usage. For example, "Life is a journey."
Metaphors are illustrations that make a strong point by comparing two things you wouldn't necessarily pair together. Remember our curtain of night? Didn't that give the impression of a very dark night? Isn't that more exciting than, "It got dark outside."
Ready to have some fun? Here are 20 metaphor examples:
- "I'm drowning in a sea of grief."
Here grief is so overwhelming that the person feels helpless, like they're being pulled underwater.
- "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.
- "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.
- "He broke my heart."
Your heart isn't literally broken; you're just feeling hurt and sad.
- "You light up my life."
Of course, no one can provide physical light. This expression is simply saying that someone brings them joy.
- "It's raining men."
Hallelujah! No, men don't literally pour from the sky. This simply indicates that a lucky lady has a lot of male suitors.
- "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.
- "He is the apple of my eye."
There is, of course, no apple in someone's eye. The apple is someone held dear.
- "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.
- "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.
- "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'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.
- "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.
- "This is the icing on the cake."
While cake is always welcome, cake with icing is even better. This means something wonderful has happened on the heels of a happy day.
- "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.
- "His words cut deeper than a knife."
Words don't materialize into sharp objects. In this metaphor, someone has said something hurtful to another.
- "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.
Purpose of Metaphors
Do you see how metaphors tend to pair the intangible with the literal? When used properly, metaphors create strong images and leave lasting impressions: "He was sad" is so bland compared to "He was drowning in a sea of grief."
Likewise, metaphors allow us to have a greater impact on the readers. With them, we can convey a thought more forcefully than with an ordinary statement. And, even though metaphors are exaggerations, they're only exaggerated to paint a vivid picture or make a profound statement.
Metaphors lend themselves particularly well to poetry because they have the ability to paint pictures in the reader's mind. You can see this clearly in YouDictionary's Examples of Metaphors in Poems article.
To teach younger children the joys of writing, check out our Metaphor Examples for Kids. We hope they'll go on to enjoy a happy friendship with these colorful facets of the English language.