Figurative Language Metaphor

Figurative language Metaphor: Metaphor has some similarity to simile in that it compares two wildly contrasting images together to create something new. The main difference is that the contrast is implied rather than being direct.

Another difference is the absence of the words 'like' and 'as'. Like and as are the two critical words that define similes, in that they make all comparisons direct. Metaphor does not do this. With metaphor all comparisons are implicit and indirect. That is, the language of metaphor, if taken literally, is largely impossible.

Two unlike and contradictory images simply cannot be like the other. Therefore metaphor is even further removed from the literal than simile, and as such metaphor can communicate a more vast array of styles.

To identify and understand metaphor in text does require a bit more work on the part of the reader. Consequently, word and world knowledge is an important foundational knowledge that is necessary to fully understand metaphor as it appears in text.

Perhaps the best way to explain the power of metaphor is with some examples. If we look at our example simile from the simile page we have, 'the girl walked like a gazelle.' If we were to change that statement into a metaphor we might have, 'the girl was a gazelle when she walked,or even simply, 'the girl was a gazelle.'

The removal of the word 'like' eliminates any direct comparison between the girl and the gazelle. In the absence of any direct comparison the statement becomes implicit, the information implied.

The figurative language metaphor 'the girl was a gazelle...' requires us to work a little harder than a simile does. But the pay off is we become more involved in the act of reading.

We imagine the girl must be fast, lithe and light on her feet, because our background knowledge tells us that's what a gazelle is like.

Figurative language Metaphor cont...

When reading great writing we thrill to vivid and striking images crafted by the author. For instance, 'There were ships leaving the harbour now, blowing columns on the breeze. The Adriatic was the colour of chrome.' Excerpt from The Riders, by Tim Winton.

The Adriatic refers to the Adriatic Sea, which in the real world is coloured blue-green or grey. Chrome is a polished metal that is used by cars, particularly cars from the 1950's and 60's era. The sea's colour being compared to a shiny metal is a literal impossibility, isn't it?

Tim Winton asks us to visualize chrome, a shiny metal with the sun glinting on it. We have all seen the sea on a sunny day with sunlight shining on the water, the glare terribly sharp and glittering. The water reflects sunlight like chrome on a car, making us shield our eyes. So, the water becomes 'the colour of chrome.' Thus the two contrasting items fuse to become a compelling image that reveals a kind of truth.


DeKemel, K.P. (2003) Intervention in Language Arts: A Practical Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kaderavek, J.N. (2011) Language Disorders in Children: Fundamental Concepts of Assessment and Intervention, Allyn & Bacon

Lazar, G. (2003) Meanings and Metaphors: Activities to Practise Figurative Language, Cambridge University Press

Winton, T. (1996) The Riders, Scribner

Content Updated 9/11

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