Jump To Section
What Is a Metaphor?
A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly compares one thing to another for rhetorical effect. One of the most famous examples of metaphor in the English language also happens to be a great example of this technique. In William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the playwright writes:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
This is a textbook example of a metaphor. Shakespeare is comparing the world to a stage by saying one is the other. However, he does not mean this literally. (In other words, he doesn’t literally believe the world is a stage.) The comparison is rhetorical. By comparing the world to a stage, and the people in the world as players on it, he is inviting us to think about the similarities between the two, and by extension, the meaning of human nature and our place in the world.
What Is a Simile?
Unlike metaphors, similes create a comparison using like and as. Perhaps you’ll recognize this famous example of simile from Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
In this case, the reader is more explicitly aware of the direct comparison that’s being made versus a metaphor or analogy. (Remember, a simile is a type of metaphor.) When it comes to simile use in writing, a good rule of thumb is to approach with caution and use similes sparingly.
What Is an Analogy?
An analogy serves a similar purpose to simile and a metaphor—i.e. showing how two things are alike—but with the ultimate goal of making a point about this comparison. The point of an analogy is not merely to show, but also to explain. For this reason, when it comes to analogy vs. metaphor, an analogy is more complex. For example, consider this analogy for futility:
“What you’re doing is as useful as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Here, the speaker is comparing the task being done to the task of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But the ultimate goal is not to compare one task to another. The ultimate goal is to communicate that the first task is useless—by comparing it to a similarly useless task, such as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
What’s the Difference Between Metaphor, Simile, and Analogy?
While these figures of speech are used to compare different things, here are some clear rules to help you distinguish between metaphor, simile, and analogy.
- A simile is saying something is like something else.
- A metaphor is often poetically saying something is something else.
- An analogy is saying something is like something else to make some sort of an explanatory point.
- You can use metaphors and similes when creating an analogy.
- A simile is a type of metaphor. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.
Become a better writer with the Masterclass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Billy Collins, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and more.