English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What is a metaphor? (with examples)

What is a metaphor? (with examples)

A metaphor states that a thing is something that it literally is not. Metaphors are also commonly created by using a word in its non-literal sense. A metaphor is a figure of speech.

Formal Definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applied. (Oxford Dictionary)

Easy Examples of Metaphors

  • Paul’s face was a blue moon pocked with craters.
    (Paul’s face literally is not a moon.)
  • Her eyes of her were darting searchlights, scanning the room for her rival of her.
    (Her eyes literally are not searchlights.)
  • She is a fox.
  • Dave is a bad apple.

Examples of Metaphors Using Non-Literal Words

Metaphors are not always easy to spot, as they do not always appear in the form [a thing] equals [something it is not]. Metaphors are also commonly created with words“not literal“(especially adjectives and verbs) that appear in the middle of the 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)

Aquí hay algunas metáforas divertidas:

  • 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.

Metaphors Contrast with Similes

Metaphors contrast with similes. A simile is a figure of speech that compares one thing to another (usually using the word“as“o“as“). Here are some examples of metaphors along with similar-looking similes.

Metaphor Simile
She is a star.
(something is something else)
She is like a star.
(something is like something else)
His eyes were skewers.
(something is something else)
His eyes were like skewers.
(something is like something else)
Her skewer eyes pierced her rivals.
(non-literal use of words)
Her eyes fixed on her rivals like skewers pierce meat.
(something is like something else)

Why Should I Care about Metaphors?

El uso de metáforas puede traer grandes beneficios, pero también conlleva un riesgo.

(Benefit 1) Metaphors can be engaging.

Metaphors are useful for bringing your writing to life.

  • We can jumpstart innovation among the workforce.
    (The metaphor jumpstart is far“spicer“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.)

Usadas con moderación en la escritura comercial (por ejemplo, solo una vez en un documento ocasional), las metáforas pueden:

  • Be memorable.
  • Make an impact.
  • Be used for emphasis.
  • Make you look confident.

Here is an example of what a metaphor might look like in a business document:

  • Option 1 is throwing the pilot from a stricken aircraft to make it lighter.

While a metaphor can be a great way to clarify or further an idea in a business document, overuse of metaphors seems frivolous. A metaphor that is a cliché (that is, a tired metaphor) also looks bad.

(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.

A menudo hay un fuerte elemento sensorial en una metáfora (p. ej., crear una imagen vívida en la mente de sus lectores), y esto puede ayudar a que su escritura sea más memorable e impactante.

  • 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.

Excessive use of metaphors can portray you as frivolous (especially in business writing). A tired metaphor can portray you as boring, and a metaphor of“business bingo“can portray it as cutesy.

  • 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 solo metáforas nuevas y apropiadas y utilícelas con moderación (especialmente en la escritura comercial) para obtener los beneficios.


  • Metaphors are the basil and garlic of writing.
  • If appropriate for your business document, you can use a fresh metaphor to spice up your writing, clarify an idea, or make your message more memorable. But don’t use two.

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