al·​le·​go·​ry ˈa-lə-ˌgȯr-ē How to pronounce allegory (audio)
plural allegories
: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence
a writer known for his use of allegory
also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
The poem is an allegory of love and jealousy.
: a symbolic representation : emblem sense 2

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an allegory and a metaphor?

Allegory is the expression of truths or generalizations about human existence by means of symbolic fictional figures and their actions. It encompasses such forms as fable and parable. A metaphor, broadly, is figurative language; specifically, it is 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. Aesop’s Fables are an example of allegory; "the ship plows the seas" is an example of metaphor.

What are different types of allegory?

Personification allegory is a type of allegory in which a fictional character represents a concept or a type. The character Everyman in the medieval play of that name and the Lover in The Romance of the Rose are figures of personification allegory. Symbolic allegory is one in which a character or material thing is not merely a transparent vehicle for an idea, but also has a recognizable identity or a narrative autonomy apart from the message it conveys. The poet Virgil in Dante's Inferno, a historical figure representing human reason within the poem, is an example of a symbolic allegorical figure.

What is the difference between allegory and simile?

A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared, often introduced by like or as ("he had eyes like agates"). Allegory is a more or less symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a secondary meaning (or meanings) not explicitly set forth in the literal narrative. Parables, myths, and fables are all considered types of allegories.

Examples of allegory in a Sentence

Luther dismissed this mystical reading of the creative act as mere "allegory." But for Augustine the six days are not just a rhetorical trope. They are unlike the figurative language of the curse on the snake. To say that Christ is a shepherd is a metaphor; but to say that he is light is literal, since physical light is a "shadow" of the real light spoken of in Genesis. Garry Wills, Under God, 1990
The Scarlet Letter is his masterpiece, because of the simplicity of its allegory and the grandeur of its colonial, Jacobean setting—and because of its shocking subject so nervously handled. Hester and Dimmesdale are sacred and profane love, subjects for Titian, yet conventionally clothed. Robert Lowell, Collected Prose, 1987
He saw thousands of Buddhas lined up in trays in the tourist shops … some in lead, some in wood, some carved in stone and dressed in a little knitted caps and capes. He came to see in this ubiquitous phenomenon the Buddha's godlike propensity for self-division, the endless fractioning of himself into every perceivable aspect, an allegory made by the people of Japan from the cellular process of life. E. L. Doctorow, Loon Lake, 1979
Recent Examples on the Web When Cohen’s book first appeared, it was read as a comic allegory about identity politics. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New Yorker, 15 Feb. 2024 In this clunky, too-long allegory promoting vegetarianism, Troughton had little time to dazzle, spending much of the story kidnapped, knocked out, or chowing down on a Spanish feast. Adam Lujan,, 14 Dec. 2023 Squid Game might have set out to tell a searing allegory about the miseries of capitalism, but its packaging was a marketing boon. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Nov. 2023 This project is an allegory of the relationship between instant photography and A.I.: Polaroid images, when they were first invented, were mainly used to capture instant, not reproducible moments. Caterina De Biasio, Vogue, 8 Feb. 2024 Rodin’s figure is an allegory of time, but also its victim. Farah Peterson, The Atlantic, 14 Dec. 2023 Fiction is for entertainment, or to serve as an allegory conferring an ideal. Dean Minnich, Baltimore Sun, 5 Jan. 2024 The narrator reads the picture book as an allegory about a gay bar. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 31 Dec. 2023 Palumbo’s emotionally raw yet skillful vocals, combined with Beck’s unconventional rhythms and guitar licks, created a heavy and visceral sound that added musical exploration and lyrical allegories to the rage and vitriol of hard rock. Josh Chesler, Los Angeles Times, 19 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'allegory.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English allegorie, from Latin allegoria, from Greek allēgoria, from allēgorein to speak figuratively, from allos other + -ēgorein to speak publicly, from agora assembly — more at else, agora

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of allegory was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near allegory

Cite this Entry

“Allegory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


al·​le·​go·​ry ˈal-ə-ˌgōr-ē How to pronounce allegory (audio)
plural allegories
: a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for truths about human life

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