Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun met·a·phor \ˈme-tə-ˌfȯr also -fər\

Simple Definition of metaphor

  • : a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show or suggest that they are similar

  • : an object, activity, or idea that is used as a symbol of something else

Full Definition of metaphor

  1. 1 :  a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly :  figurative language — compare simile

  2. 2 :  an object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor :  symbol 2

met·a·phor·ic play \ˌme-tə-ˈfȯr-ik, -ˈfär-\ or met·a·phor·i·cal play \-i-kəl\ adjective
met·a·phor·i·cal·ly play \-i-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of metaphor

  1. You see, menudo is our chicken soup for the body and soul, our metaphor for bread-and-butter issues. —Joe Rodriguez, San Jose Mercury News, 20 May 2003

  2. The hapless Humpty Dumpty often crops up as a metaphor for the second law of thermodynamics. —Charles Day, Physics Today, December 2002

  3. Ben Strong, senior, football player, leader of the prayer group, the boy whose very name is a metaphor, has been besieged by the media for interviews. —Jayne Anne Phillips, Harper's, November 1998

  4. The number of songs containing ambiguous metaphors and intriguing but obscure symbolism could be extended indefinitely. Still, … there are hollers, work songs, field songs, and blues whose meaning is really not subject to a great deal of interpretation. —Lawrence W. Levine, “The Concept of the New Negro,” 1971, in The Unpredictable Past, 1993

  5. He was drowning in paperwork is a metaphor in which having to deal with a lot of paperwork is being compared to drowning in an ocean of water.

  6. Her poems include many imaginative metaphors.

  7. a poet admired for her use of metaphor

Origin of metaphor

Middle English methaphor, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French metaphore, from Latin metaphora, from Greek, from metapherein to transfer, from meta- + pherein to bear — more at bear

First Known Use: 15th century

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up metaphor? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


February 8, 2016

to clear from accusation or blame

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?

pince-nez kittly-benders duvet spindrift
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.