I'm struggling to fully conceptualise "metaphor". I think I understand "simile", it is an explicit analogue. But how can one turn any analogue into a metaphor?


  1. Is there anything to bear in mind about turning an analogy into a metaphor, bar grammatical code like making sure it's a complete sentence?
  2. Is there any surefire way to turn an analogy into a metaphor proper? E.g.: a colon, to signal that I am explaining the tenor; or simply writing a simile then omitting the explicit comparison.

In my example for 2

  • I stay quiet like a broken fire alarm.
  • I stay quiet: a broken fire alarm.
  • I stay quiet, a broken fire alarm.
  • 2
    There's no particular difference between metaphors and similes. They're just different words for the same phenomenon. It's the same if you say My love is a red, red rose or My love is like a red, red rose, except one has an extra syllable. That's all, really. Sep 8, 2015 at 0:48
  • yes they are different ways of saying the same thing: we discussed that below. but i think it makes sense to ask how to turn one into the other
    – user99677
    Sep 8, 2015 at 0:51
  • There's no particular difference in their meaning. There is a world of difference in their presentation. Sep 8, 2015 at 2:58
  • 1
    see @JEL's answer below - the word 'analogy' has its own meaning as a literary device; it might be clearer to replace it in your question with 'analogue'.
    – JHCL
    Sep 8, 2015 at 10:13

4 Answers 4


When you say 'like', you are comparing yourself to something whilst acknowledging that you are not that thing.

When you remove the 'like', you are placing yourself in the position of that thing, as if you were the thing itself. In other words, you are identifying yourself with something that, in reality, you are not, thus allowing you to achieve a desired rhetorical effect.

Given the definition of a metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies something as being the same as some unrelated thing for rhetorical effect, thus highlighting the similarities between the two.

compared to the definition of a simile

A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid

I would say that yes, you can replace 'like' with a colon and get a metaphor. Because with a metaphor, you are the thing you are comparing yourself to, and with a simile, you are not that thing but you are showing how you are similar to one of its properties.

  • can a colon signal elaboration in the sense of likeness. " used to precede a list of items, a quotation, or an expansion or explanation." clearly not explicitly...
    – user99677
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:33

By making metaphors of nouns you are making things difficult for yourself.

Use adjectives: your vase / stomach example becomes
'a big-bellied vase.'

under the giggling stars, the sly moon...

or use verbs; make your nouns slither, growl, nag, slurp.

Despair stares outward from the passing train

(quotes from Carol Ann Duffy)


I would never encourage blindly substituting punctuation for words but in some cases yes you can.

The difference is the literal interpretation. With a simile it's still true. With a metaphor it's a lie. Granted, it's a lie that everyone is meant to understand but it's still a lie. That's part of its charm.

The word "like" isn't the only way to spoil a metaphor:

  • similar
  • akin
  • analogous

Also, some phrases, such as "As if I was a ..." will spoil a metaphor as well.

I should probably add that if the sentence is constructed in such a way that the punctuation or structure makes clear that the word "like", or its ilk, has been omitted but is clearly intended (as when commas stand in for the word "and") then you've still got a simile on your hands.

What makes a metaphor fun is that it's not true in the literal sense but the metaphorical sense is so true that we all understand what is being said anyway. This is what is spoiled if you add the word "like" or its ilk.

A simile is fine if that is what is intended. But it should never feel like the author is apologizing for using a metaphor.

  • 1
    i think the idea that similes spoil a metaphor, kinda silly, but i think the answer if good :)
    – user99677
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:28
  • Similes don't spoil a metaphor. It's the state you find yourself in when you attempt a metaphor and spoil it with a qualifier. There certainly is nothing wrong with using a simile when that's what you meant to do. Sep 7, 2015 at 23:32
  • i don't know what that means, anyone can write a metaphor: i was asking about the most parsimonious way to. thanks for the reply mind :)
    – user99677
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:35
  • e.g. i see a likeness between a vase and a swollen stomach. i could say "the vase is like a swollen stomach". or i could go off on one and say "the swollen stomach held the flowers so perfectly". either way, the latter is less likely to be the basic starting point in establishing 'metaphor'. you may have a point about unwilled, articulable phrasing - if that's what you meant.
    – user99677
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:45
  • 1
    No it's not an aesthetic obligation. It is, however, a habit some authors struggle to break. Sep 7, 2015 at 23:50

The literary device called analogy frequently refers to an extended metaphor or simile:

While simile and analogy often overlap, the simile is generally a more artistic likening, done briefly for effect and emphasis, while analogy serves the more practical end of explaining a thought process or a line of reasoning or the abstract in terms of the concrete, and may therefore be more extended.

(From A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices.)

And this from "Literary Terms & Devices":

Analogy extends a metaphor.

Two quotes, from early and later thinking may help you understand how the meanings of 'simile', 'metaphor' and 'analogy' intertwine:

"A simile is also a metaphor; for there is little difference: when the poet says, 'He rushed as a lion,' it is a simile, but 'The lion rushed' [with lion referring to a man] would be a metaphor; since both are brave, he used a metaphor [i.e., a simile] and spoke of Achilles as a lion. The simile is useful also in speech, but only occasionally, for it is poetic. [Similes] should be brought in like metaphors; for they are metaphors, differing in the form of expression." (Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book Three, Chapter 4. Translated by George A. Kennedy, Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Oxford University Press, 1991)


"Most theorists have thought that metaphor is somehow a matter of bringing out similarities between things or states of affairs. Donald Davidson [above] argues that this 'bringing out' is purely causal, and in no way linguistic; hearing the metaphor just somehow has the effect of making us see a similarity. The Naive Simile Theory goes to the opposite extreme, having it that metaphors simply abbreviate explicit literal comparisons. Both views are easily seen to be inadequate. According to the Figurative Simile Theory, on the other hand, metaphors are short for similes themselves taken figuratively. This view avoids the three most obvious objections to the Naive Simile Theory, but not all the tough ones." (William G. Lycan, Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2008)

(Quote reproduced from Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms; see especially the section below the heading "Observations on the Differences Between Similes and Metaphors".)

If you put all the foregoing together, you find that the answer to the first question you pose, "how can one turn any analogy into a metaphor?", is that any analogy is already a metaphor, or a simile, depending on how the analogy is expressed. As Aristotle points out, similes are identical to metaphors, differing only in the form of expression. This answer begs your further questions:

Is there anything to bear in mind about turning an analogy into a metaphor, bar grammatical code like making sure it's a complete sentence?

Yes: bear in mind the form of the expression. Use one form, explicit comparison, and your analogy will be a simile. Use another form, implicit comparison, and your analogy will be a metaphor. That's really all there is to it, despite the confusing complexities and mysteries I will later introduce. This answer (to your second question), also bears directly on your third question,

Is there any surefire way to turn an analogy into a metaphor proper? E.g.: a colon, to signal that I am explaining the tenor; or simply writing a simile then omitting the explicit comparison.

As explained, an analogy is already a metaphor, or a simile, depending on the form of the expression. So, your idea that inserting a colon in place of an explicit comparative phrase (for example) might sometimes work, but won't always. Unless you understand what you are doing, and saying, the result of inserting that colon will sometimes be merely a mess. Far better will be to understand the different ways of expressing explicit and implicit comparisons, and of converting one form of expression to another.

Theorists have argued that language, learning, and thinking are essentially metaphorical processes. For a technical analysis of some current thinking on metaphorical processes in language and thought, see Metaphor in language and thought: How do we map the field?, by Gerard Steen (in press).

See "The role of metaphor in learning and knowledge formation" for a summary description of one project focussed on analyzing how metaphorical thinking underlies learning processes. For more detail, see "Cathedrals in the Mind: The Architecture of Metaphor in Understanding Learning" (Chapter from Cybernetics and Systems '86, pp. 285-292, by Kathleen Forsythe). The paper that became the chapter received the American Cybernetic Society award for the best paper of the year (1986). This is the complete abstract:

The pervasiveness of metaphor in our conceptual system suggests a central and basic role in the underlying architecture of thought. Metaphor represents the ability to understand one thing in terms of another as we ascribe an understood pattern to an unknown phenomena and perceive their structural integrity within the environment of our experience. We can then begin to perceive the environment of learning as one in which analogical thinking serves as architecture, analytical thinking serves as engineering and the imagination ensures that the interactions which create life and meaning are always being realized anew. The implications for this approach to applied epistemology provides insight into the design and development of learning systems that support the creative nature of learning.

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