Metaphor, Simile and Analogy: What’s the Difference?

Blogging MetaphoricallyNow that we know metaphors can be powerful persuasion tools, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page from a definitional standpoint.

Common sources of confusion for the metaphorically inclined include the simile and the analogy.

While all three are closely related, it’s smart to understand the differences. The distinctions among metaphors, similes, and analogies will also help to underscore why you may want to use one and not the other in certain situations.

Let’s take a look at definitions:

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two.

The key words here are “one thing to mean another.”

So, when someone says “He’s become a shell of a man,” we know not to take this literally, even though it’s stated directly as if this person had actually lost his internal substance.

Simile

A simile compares two different things in order to create a new meaning.

In this case, we are made explicitly aware that a comparison is being made due to the use of “like” or “as” (He’s like a shell of a man).

For fun, the next time someone corrects you and says “That’s a simile, not a metaphor,” you can respond by letting them know that a simile is a type of metaphor, just like sarcasm is a type of irony. Resist the urge to be sarcastic in your delivery.

Analogy

An analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile in that it shows how two different things are similar, but it’s a bit more complex.

Rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument.

The presenter of an analogy will often demonstrate how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well.

Why metaphor?

There are circumstances where either a simile or analogy is the more appropriate vehicle for getting your point across. But coming up with a great metaphor may be your best bet in many situations.

A metaphor carries so much more power than a simile, because it’s direct. Using “like” or “as” to make an open comparison will often diminish the vivid visual you’re trying to paint in the reader’s mind. Likewise, a spot-on metaphor will spark instant understanding for a reader, without the elaboration that an analogy requires.

From here we’ll examine specific ways to use metaphor in your blog posts. Headlines, openings, themes, calls to action and more can all benefit from the use of metaphor, as long as the metaphors don’t suck. We’ll look at ways to avoid that, too.

Next in the series: Magnetic Blogging: How to Use Metaphors to Create Irresistible Content

(Did you miss the first post in this series? Read it now: Become a Master of Metaphor and Multiply Your Blogging Effectiveness)

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Comments

  1. I wish I had this information taught to me when I was young and in school.

    Bah!!

  2. Thanks for the clarification. Clarity is like polishing glass.

  3. “…as long as the metaphors don’t suck”

    Indeed. I hope you cover sporting metaphors in that post…

    ;)

  4. Funny how all that stuff you thought was so boring in school is now so cool and important.

  5. A simile can be very effective as a set-up to a question, making a nice transition from one thought to the next.

    Using Brian’s example:

    He’s like a shell of a man. Why? Because (your scintillating illumination here.)

    A simile almost begs for further explanation. A metaphor is more emphatic with a “there you are” quality.

  6. I’ve used analogies a lot in my life. Learning the use of metaphors well will help me to still speak creatively, yet keep my audience interested!

  7. I love the metaphor like a 5 year old child loves chocolate ice cream with M & M sprinkles.

  8. More examples, please, for us of the linguistically deficient… oh, and MORE COWBELLS!

  9. Using analogies come as second nature for a former Literature student like me. It helps inject a visual in the audiences’ minds. I’m glad I found you. I can only wish I discovered you earlier.

  10. I agree with Pat Law, who probably clearly points out in one sentence the entire point of this post related to marketing:

    “Using analogies…helps inject a visual in the audiences’ minds.”

  11. I am a metaphor.

  12. ‘A metaphor carries so much more power than a simile, because it’s.. straight on the face.. that’s what i love about it!!

  13. Using analogies come as second nature for a former Literature student like me. It helps inject a visual in the audiences’ minds. I’m glad I found you. I can only wish I discovered you earlier.

  14. Am I the only one that thinks that a venn diagram would help explain the relationship.

  15. Nice. Like Ice cream.
    Wondering how you, bhai saab, would convert the above ‘simile’ to a ‘metaphor’, barring the fact that simile is like a metaphor?

  16. Nish… Venn diagrams… are they still around?
    John Forde… I agree wholeheartedly… short enough?
    Oh, and… MORE COWBELLS!

  17. @Momekh: How about: This blog is the banana split of copyediting?

  18. I’d like to see more examples of analogies in everyday speech, all I ever think of with analogies is the things on the SAT.

  19. Way to drive the point home! Let’s leave a mark on the mental-scape through elephant-sized imagery, making words bigger than they are…

  20. Wow! Brian, with your magical use of words, you could easily have become a brilliant courtroom lawyer.

    Lucky for us, you chose copy blogging instead.

  21. While reviewing a post I am writing about hunting or farming in sales, a suggestion was made to shift from analogy to metaphor. Even though the simile preexisted my article, not getting lost in the analogies is important to maintain the focus.

    I came here to sort that out and did. Thanks!

  22. So I correctly described myself on profiles as “metaphorically inclined” Googled it. Found this post and thought I better make sure had it right… lol… Thanks for posting. Following you on Twitter already by the way. This was pure “coincidence” if there was such a thing. Cheers.

  23. To Roberta Rosenberg:
    Could you give me the distinguishing characteristics between an analogy and an allegory? I believe that I was “schooled today;” (Which is GREAT as far as I’m concerned-love it when they are thinking.) I have stated in the past that Animal Farm is an ANALOGY to the Russian Revolution, but now, I’m beginning to think it is actually an ALLEGORY to the Russian Revolution. My thinking now is that PARTS of the novel are ANALOGOUS, but the ENTIRE NOVEL is an ALLEGORY of the Russian Revolution. Any ideas out there?

  24. Karen, that’s correct. Animal Farm is allegory — a story where the literal narrative is designed to convey, represent, or teach something else; often something more abstract, like values or ethics. Biblical parables are also a good example of allegory.

    An analogy is using an example to explain something else by showing how the two situations are similar. Not a full blown story like allegory, but more elaborate than a metaphor, in which a non-literal meaning is expressed in a single word or short phrase.

  25. Unfortunately, this information you post here about a simile being a metaphor is incorrect. The words you use in your own explanation are proof of this. Allow me to show you.

    1. You define “Metaphor” as a “figure of speech,” which it is. You explain its purpose as being draw a comparison between two very different things. Also accurate.

    2. But you stray from your own line of logic when you define a “simile.” Note that in your own definition of simile you state that it compares two different things, just as a metaphor does. Also note that your definition of metaphor explains that its function–to compare two dissimilar things–makes it a figure of speech. However, the flaw in your explanation occurs when you disallowed a simile to be properly identified also according to its function–to compare two dissimilar things–which makes it also a figure of speech.

    Where you are in error is your understanding of the broader term beyond the words “simile” and “metaphor.” It is true that “irony” is a broader term than “sarcasm,” which is a specific form of irony. However, a simile and metaphor are both figures of speech that differ in the specific form they take syntactically when they express a figure of speech.

    So a person would be incorrect in saying, “All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.” This is simply not true because a metaphor is not a broader term that contains the simile form. The correct way to form this sentence is as follows: “All similes are figures of speech, but not all figures of speech are similes.”

    Thank you.

  26. I was wondering if anyone here could help me with converting metophors,anaolgies, and similies more into not only my story writing! Ha but my speech and perhaps songwriting??
    I’m fairly younger than I think most of the ppl on here lol some mentioned being out of school. I’m still in high school. Ha

  27. I swear, these lines had me laughing uncontrollably for 3 mins straight… its complexity so genius

    “For fun, the next time someone corrects you and says “That’s a simile, not a metaphor,” you can respond by letting them know that a simile is a type of metaphor, just like sarcasm is a type of irony. Resist the urge to be sarcastic in your delivery.”

  28. this is incredibly helpful. i feel that is does a very good job of explaining these differences clearly.

  29. For those in need of a mental image… Never let your Alligator mouth overload your Hummingbird butt.