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Grammar Basics: Metaphors

Grammar Basics: Metaphors

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:

-Definition of metaphor
-Definitions for various types of metaphors (dead metaphors, implied metaphors, etc.)
-Examples of metaphors
-Differences between metaphors and similes
-Definition of figures of speech
-Definition and examples of similes
-Examples of metaphors and similes in popular culture

This learning packet will introduce the concept of metaphor through an informative slide show as well as several multimedia video clips. The packet will provide definitions, examples, and opportunities for review for students, as well as discuss several key related terms such as simile and figures of speech. Since metaphor is so important to our understanding of language and communication, this is an important concept to understand and use well in writing! For that reason, easy-to-remember examples from popular culture are a key element of this packet.

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Aristotle on Metaphors

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance. - Aristotle, De Poetica, 322 BCE

Metaphors: An Important Figure of Speech

This slide show presentation offers definitions, examples, and review of various types of metaphors, as well as insight into figures of speech and figurative language overall. Similes are also discussed as a contrast to metaphors.

Source: See slide show for citation

Metaphors (and Similes) in Popular Songs

This video clip offers great examples of metaphors, as well as similes, used in popular songs. These are especially helpful to students aiming to remember some concrete and catchy examples of both metaphors and similes. The songs are great too!

Source: YouTube

What's the Difference Between Metaphors and Similes? What's the Relationship?

This is a video clip offering several great examples of metaphors, along with explanations of their meanings.

Source: YouTube

Metaphors: Definition and Discussion

Question: What Is a Metaphor?

Some people think of metaphors as nothing more than the sweet stuff of songs and poems--Love is a jewel, or a rose, or a butterfly. But in fact all of us speak and write and think in metaphors every day. They can't be avoided: metaphors are built right into our language.

Here we'll take a look at some of the different kinds of metaphors, with examples drawn from advertisements, poems, essays, songs, and TV programs.


A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. The word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." Metaphors "carry" meaning from one word, image, or idea to another.

When Dr. Gregory House (in the TV series House, M.D.) says, "I'm a night owl, Wilson's an early bird. We're different species," he's speaking metaphorically. When Dr. Cuddy replies, "Then move him into his own cage," she's extending House's bird metaphor--which he caps off with the remark, "Who'll clean the droppings from mine?"

Calling a person a "night owl" or an "early bird" is an example of a common (or conventional) metaphor--one that most native speakers will readily understand. Let's look at some of the different ways a single conventional metaphor can be used.

Some metaphors are so common that we may not even notice that they are metaphors. Take the familiar metaphor of life as a journey, for example. We find it in advertising slogans:

  • "Life is a journey, travel it well."
    (United Airlines)
  • "Life is a journey. Enjoy the Ride."
  • "Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride with a GM reward card."
    (General Motors)
  • "Life's a journey--travel light"
    (Hugo Boss Perfume)

The same metaphor appears in the lyrics to the Aerosmith song "Amazing":

Life's a journey not a destination
And I just can't tell just what tomorrow brings.
(from the album A Little South Of Sanity)

And though worded differently, the journey metaphor appears again in the chorus to "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," a pop song composed by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell:

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return.
While we're on the way to there
Why not share?

Poets also make use of the journey metaphor, as in this well-known work by Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken":

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And then there's Isaac Asimov's updated version of the metaphor: "Life is a journey, but don't worry, you'll find a parking spot at the end."