What is a Metaphor? Definition, Examples of Metaphorical Language

Metaphor definition: A metaphor is a type of figurative language that expresses a comparison between two entities without using any comparison words.

What is a Metaphor?

A metaphor is figurative language. Therefore, its meaning is figurative, not literal.

A metaphor compares two things but it does not use any comparison terms (such as like, as, resembles, than) to do so.

In writing, metaphors are used to express deeper meaning, convey complexity, and add appeal.

An example will further explain this concept.

Metaphor Example:

  • Peter is a rock.

Clearly, Peter is not literally a rock. This metaphor states that Peter is figuratively a rock. The metaphor is figurative to compare Peter’s qualities to the qualities of the rock.

Metaphorical definition and meaningIn this metaphorical example, to say Peter is a rock might mean that he is study, solid, strong, trustworthy. The exact meaning of a metaphor will always depend upon the context of its use.

Modern Examples of Metaphors

Let’s take a look at a few popular examples of metaphor.

Common Metaphor Example:

  • The world is your oyster.
  • The world is his oyster, but that’s not what he’s consuming. The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination eats like a teenage boy, inhaling Filets-o-Fish and Big Macs. –The Washington Post

This example is a common English phrase. This sentence is not saying that the world is literally your oyster. Rather, this metaphor uses figurative language to express deeper meaning.

This example is stating that the world is figuratively your oyster. The comparison between the world and “your oyster” might seem vague at first. This metaphor is communicating that the world is yours to open, to explore, to search and find your “pearl.”

Common Metaphor Example:

  • A blanket of snow.
  • Mr. Barney, who had arrived in the dining room wearing his custom-made orange ski boots, was referring to the trail named Success, with its early-morning blanket of freshly groomed, untouched snow. –The New York Times

Here we have another common English phrase. We are comparing a layer of snow to a blanket because it covers the entire land. Obviously, the snow isn’t a literal blanket to the Earth, but it looks similar to a blanket covering a field or a mountaintop.

The Function of Metaphors

Metaphor definition and examplesWhy use metaphors? Writers use metaphors to make writing more interesting. A metaphor expresses meaning that literal words cannot. Metaphors also make writing more concise.

Writers use metaphors when they want to express a comparison but do not want to directly state that comparison. Metaphors allow for interpretation and layer meaning in text.

A writer will often choose a metaphor when he wants to add greater significance to his text.

For example, to say, “Peter is a rock,” is much more effective than to say, “Peter is strong, sturdy, reliable, trustworthy,” and so on.

Metaphors add layered meaning and interest to writing.

Metaphor Examples in Literature

example of a metaphor literary definitionSince much of Shakespeare’s writing is in verse, he often used metaphors to convey greater meaning and significance.

Metaphor Examples in Shakespeare:

Here is an example from Act 2, scene 2, lines 2-3 of Romeo and Juliet:

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

In this example, Romeo is peering at Juliet as she enters her balcony. Shakespeare utilizes metaphor to compare Juliet to the sun. Romeo sees the light from Juliet’s room and compares that light, which he then calls Juliet, to the sun.

With this metaphor Shakespeare is allowing for deeper meaning in this context. It is not that Juliet is literally the sun. Rather, she is figuratively the source of light and life for Romeo, as the sun is the source of light and life for Earth.

Using this metaphor is much more effective than saying something like, “Juliet is a light source for Romeo. She provides him warmth and gives him strength to live.”

Summary: What are Metaphors?

Define metaphor: To sum up, a metaphor,

  • is a comparison between two things
  • DOES NOT use comparison terms
  • is figurative in meaning
  • is used frequently in literature

If you are ever unsure about the meaning of metaphor or wonder what does metaphor mean, bookmark this page.

We also have many other literary terms on our Grammar Dictionary. Feel free to check it out.