Which would you rather hear on Valentine’s Day: “I love you” or “My heart is a bottomless ocean of love for you”? Poets (and greetings card companies) know that the second option, known as a metaphor, is more appealing to true romantics. But you don’t need to wait until February 14th to find metaphor examples — chances are, you use metaphors every day.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares a shared trait between two unlike things.
Metaphors are a type of figurative language, meaning that they’re not literally true — they’re illustrations that make a strong point by comparing two things you wouldn't necessarily pair together.
For example, in the metaphor “My heart is a bottomless ocean of love,” you’re comparing the deepness of your love to the deepness of an ocean. Not only does it show the reader that your love is very deep indeed, but it also creates a mental picture of a deep ocean.
Many metaphors are so common that they’ve almost become idioms, which are nonsensical expressions we use all the time. But unlike idioms, metaphors still compare two things to make their point.
Common metaphors include:
- Time is a thief.
- Eyes are the windows to the soul.
- This is the icing on the cake.
- Hope is on the horizon.
- Life contains nothing but clear skies up ahead.
- He has a heart of gold.
- Her lovely voice was music to his ears.
- America is a melting pot.
- You’re such an angel.
- He is a night owl.
- She's going through a rollercoaster of emotions.
- He’s got the stench of failure.
- The world is a stage.
- She has such a bubbly personality.
Sometimes you need a metaphor to properly show the depths of your emotions. Just think of one part of your emotions that’s like something else, and you can create a metaphor for it.
- I'm drowning in a sea of grief.
- You light up my life.
- I'm feeling blue.
- He got lost in a storm of memories.
- Your words cut deeper than a knife.
- He’s really cold-hearted.
- She’s red hot with anger.
- I was shattered by the bad news.
We use metaphors to compare a person’s behavior to something else. Often, these comparisons help to describe a person or character even better than a literal description.
- My temper flared when I saw him.
- I faded off to sleep.
- She was fishing for compliments.
- He’s a bad seed.
- I’m a bull in a china shop.
- You need to bite the bullet.
- This is a wild goose chase.
- We’re just herding cats.
Your heart can’t literally break, but we often compare our heart to a very fragile thing to describe the pain we feel when love ends.
- We fell head over heels in love.
- He was struck by Cupid’s arrow.
- I love you from the bottom of my heart.
- Love is a rose with thorns.
- We had a whirlwind romance.
- She took my breath away.
- His heart was broken.
- I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Sometimes the world around us is too vivid for a literal description. A well-crafted metaphor can paint just the right picture.
- The cold air pierced his skin.
- Warmth blanketed the area.
- The calm lake was a mirror.
- The curtain of night fell upon us.
- That lawn was a perfect green carpet after getting mowed this morning.
- The stars are sparkling diamonds.
- The clouds are balls of cotton.
- The moon was a white balloon floating over the city.
- The road ahead was a ribbon stretching across the desert.
- The lightning was fireworks in the sky.
You don’t need to be a professional poet to enjoy a good metaphor. Writers of all ages can use metaphors to make their comparisons stronger and more engaging.
- The classroom was a zoo.
- The alligator's teeth are white daggers.
- Ben's temper was a volcano ready to explode.
- At recess, the playground becomes a circus.
- My teacher is a dragon, ready to scold anyone he looks at.
- Mary's eyes were fireflies.
- I am so excited. My pulse is a race car.
- Those best friends are two peas in a pod.
- The computers at school are old dinosaurs.
- Maria is a chicken.
- He is a walking dictionary.
- Your brain is a computer.
- The wind was a howling wolf.
- The ballerina was a swan, gliding across the stage.
- Jamal was a pig at dinner.
- My big brother is a couch potato.
- The kids were monkeys on the jungle gym.
- The stormy ocean was a raging bull.
- The thunder was a mighty lion.
- In this summer heat, the kids were just a bunch of lazy dogs.
- Her fingers were icicles after playing outside.
Just as there are many ways to paint metaphorical pictures, there are many types of metaphors. Popular forms include:
- Absolute Metaphors - compare two things with no obvious connection to make a striking point
(She's walking a tightrope with her grades this semester.)
- Dead Metaphors - have drifted so far from their origins that we don’t know what they’re comparing anymore — even though we use them all the time
(Don’t fly off the handle.)
- Extended Metaphors - lengthy; intended to create deep comparisons
(She was the rock of our family, strong and unbreakable, even in the worst storms.)
- Implied Metaphors - compare two things without using specific terms
(The teenager erupted with anger.)
- Mixed Metaphors - mix two common or idiomatic comparisons together
(In the heat of the moment, she turned to ice and danced to the beat of her own drum.)
Unlike similes, which use like or as to create comparisons, common metaphors typically use a form of the verb to be (such as is, am, are). They may also use other verbs to imply that a noun is really doing something to make its comparison, but the noun isn’t literally doing that action.
- Metaphor - My heart is a bottomless ocean of love.
- Simile - My love is as deep as the ocean.
Both metaphors and similes compare one attribute of two unlike things. They just use different wording and pacing to get their point across.