Which pronoun do we use when referring to something metaphorically rather than directly?

Todd Leopold, et al., May 28, 2014 writing on CNN:

A literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has fallen silent.

I would think one might use the pronoun corresponding to the metaphor literary voice (it) here, rather than the personality it refers to (her).

Especially as it somehow seems interfering with the subsequent has fallen silent.

  • 7
    The voice did not have a commitment to civil rights; the person did. May 29, 2014 at 11:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet So?
    – Kris
    May 29, 2014 at 11:49
  • 1
    You might want to give a little more context...is this about Maya Angelou? She is definitely a 'her' and so the voice wasn't ... never mind...what @JanusBahsJacquet said.
    – Mitch
    May 29, 2014 at 12:23
  • Look up synecdoche. Angelou is here being personified by her voice, one aspect of her as a human being. If one were making reference to her literary voice, then voice would be a literal reference and it would be appropriate. But that is not the case.
    – Robusto
    May 29, 2014 at 12:24
  • People get narky when a person gets referred to by 'it', even if indirectly.
    – Neil W
    May 29, 2014 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


I don't think this deserves downvoting.

The whole question of the use of metaphor/s is very complex. When a vehicle is simply given as a different term for the tenor ('John is a tiger') there is little problem with syntax and other compositional requirements (though Jill may prefer to be labelled a tigress).

However, switching back from metaphorical to non-metaphorical language mid-sentence is certainly not without problems:

(She was a literary voice that was heard over all the anglophone world and beyond, compelling in its stridency, and selling more novels than all her competitors.)

It is obviously unsatisfactory to switch between tenor and vehicle willy-nilly.

That having been said, with dead or near-dead metaphors which aren't extended (as with 'literary voice'), the tenor/vehicle swap is probably best treated as being a choice between synonyms, with the more fitting agreement being chosen (here, 'her').


I suppose you may be talking about this article here http://ktla.com/2014/05/28/maya-angelou-dies-at-86/, right?

As you can see, the title is "Maya Angelou, Acclaimed Poet and Author, Dies at 86" and the first sentence of the article is the one you mentioned above: A literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has fallen silent. In this sentence, her refers to Maya, not to her voice. Just like @JanusBahsJacquet said, Maya was the one who had commitment to civil rights, which is a thing that a voice by itself can't do.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.