a pitted excuse for a road
a big bear of a man
a gigantic furious beast of a man
a wisp of a boy/girl

  • Separate from the question, I believe you're intending "pitiful excuse" in the first example
    – Unrelated
    Oct 7, 2020 at 0:55

2 Answers 2


Each one is an example of a type of a metaphor defined by the Cambridge online dictionary as

an expression, often found in literature, that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to have similar characteristics to that person or object:

Metaphors often, but not always, have this "A (something) of (something else)" structure but can have other structures such as "(something) is a (something else)". An example of that type of metaphor from the linked dictionary entry is "The city is a jungle". That's obviously not literally true, cities and jungles are two different things, but the metaphor presents the comparison as though it were a fact.

This is as opposed to a simile which is defined by the same dictionary as

(the use of) an expression comparing one thing with another, always including the words "as" or "like":

For instance if your second example had been "A man like a big bear" rather than "A big bear of a man" that would have been a simile since the comparison is made explicit by the use of the word "like" whereas in a metaphor the comparison is concealed by the metaphor looking like a statement of literal fact.


"A pitted excuse for a road" occurs as a common collocation with "excuse" - "an excuse {for (in place of) something}" and is not a comparator.

"Noun1 of a noun2" is also not a comparator. It is a standard use of "of + substantive" which produces a prepositional modifier. It has been in English since at least the 12th century:


Of (prep.)

23. Between two nouns which are in virtual apposition. b. In the form of, in the guise of.

The leading noun is the latter, to which the preceding noun with of stands as a qualification, equivalent to an adjective; thus ‘that fool of a man’ = that foolish man, that man who deserves to be called ‘fool’; ‘that beast of a place’ = that beastly place.

[c1175 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 11695 Þeȝȝ hallȝhenn cristess flæsh off bræd & cristess blod teȝȝ hallȝhenn. Off win.]

1956 I. Murdoch Flight from Enchanter xii. 176 ‘You beastly contemptible shit of a crook,’ said Hunter.

1992 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Feb. 144/3 The Schramsberg offers a whirlwind of a mousse, tasting of lemon and yeast.

Your Answer

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

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