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What Is a Metaphor? 17 Definitions [a poem]

Metaphors Be With You
To read more about metaphors, check out my lesson series on the topic. If you’re looking for a more concrete (and less demonstrative) definition of metaphor, check out Metaphor Basics: The Definition and Structure of a Metaphor.


17 Definitions of Metaphor

I. A metaphor is a figure of speech
that directly compares two objects
that don’t match until the objects are matches
striking in strong winds, dancing their white-orange
beacons on the top of their two-inch lighthouses as
the wind catches fire.

II. A metaphor climbs to the cliffside,
sends a stone sailing through the air,
carefully watching it soar so
it can understand the ways birds
don’t fly.

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Metaphor Lesson Series

Metaphors Be With You

This hub page will direct you to the lessons, exercises, and games in my metaphor lesson series. For more detailed descriptions of the exercises below, check out the metaphor exercise page.

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The Literally Game (a Metaphor Exercise)

Metaphor Lesson Series

Metaphor Exercise 2: The Literally Game

Not ready yet? Go back to basics.
Want to step back to the previous entry in the series? Go to figurative vs literal language.

So, you’ve learned the difference between literal and figurative language. It’s obvious to you, you say. You could tell the difference between a metaphor and a literal description even if you were five miles away and being stabbed in the kidney by a herd of hungry pygmy cannibals.

Well, okay. But let’s put your knowledge into action and have some fun while we’re doing it. This simple, social game lets you ingrain the concept of literal and figurative language while practicing metaphor creation.

The Rules

If you’ve ever played the storytelling game “popcorn,” you have the basic idea for how the literally game works. The objective is to tell a story as a group, where each participant takes a turn in biulding the story in interesting ways. Here’s the difference: Rather than calling out “popcorn” and picking a player, you pass along the story by using a metaphor.

So player one may say, “Jim was excited to see her again. He had always carried a torch for her.”

The player to player one’s left would then continue the story by saying, “Literally.” Player two then continues the story in a way that explains how the metaphor is a literal description. In this case, player two could say, “Literally. The two of them spent a lot of time exploring caves, and he always had to carry the torch.” Player two would then have to continue the story and  reach a new metaphor. For example, “Jim wondered if she would want to go exploring caves that night, but mostly he felt concerned. She had broken his heart before.

Here’s an extended example of play.

Player 1: ”Jim was excited to see her again. He’d always carried a torch for her.”
Player 2: ”Literally. They spent a lot of time exploring caves, and he always had to carry the torch. He wondered if she would want to go exploring caves that night, but mostly he felt concerned. She had broken his heart before.”
Player 3: “Literally. She had electrocuted him by accident when they were playing with electronics, and it damaged his heart so bad that he had to get a transplant. He was still mad at her. She was a fat old cow.
Player 4: “Literally. I … guess I should have mentioned, but she was a fat, old cow that Jim had raised on the family farm. He hated his family, though, and it had been years since he’d seen anyone from his childhood. His fear of seeing Annabelle made his mind burst into flames.”

While you can set up rules for “winning,” the main point is just to have fun.

So let’s play!

I’m going to start our blog-based literally game in the comments, below. Pick up and keep the story moving! I’ll even sweeten the deal. Literally. I’m going to buy cookies for ten randomly selected participants. Check out the rules here.

Move forward to lesson three.
(Coming on 11/2!)


Metaphors Will Blow Your Readers’ Minds. Literally.

Okay, maybe not literally.

Metaphors Be With You

Metaphor Lesson Two: The Difference Between Figurative and Literal

Not ready yet? Go back to basics.
Want to step back to the previous entry in the series? Go to Metaphor Madlibs.

Here’s where most people get lost: Several other parts of language bear a striking resemblance to metaphors. This lesson will discuss the difference between literal and figurative language to help you distinguish literal descriptions from metaphors.


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9 Metaphor Exercises to Empower Your Writing

Metaphors Be With You

As you probably know, I’m in the process of creating a series of lessons and exercises that help you improve your ability to work with metaphors. Here are the nine exercises, which I’ll be discussing in greater detail later on.

1: Metaphor Madlibs

What it’s for: Helping people recognize and understand metaphors.

How it works: These three “madlibs” have players supply the objects and verbs. The random selections are then put into famous metaphor-based sayings, a metaphor-rich story, and other metaphor frameworks. Players are able to dissect what makes a metaphor in a simple and enjoyable way.

The full entry can be found here.

2: A Little S&M

What it’s for: Helping people differentiate metaphors from other types of language (including simile, hyberbole, literal descriptions, and euphemisms).

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Metaphor Exercise 1: Metaphor Madlibs

Exercise 1: Metaphor Madlibs

Go back to Metaphor Lesson #1: Metaphor Basics

After reviewing the basics of metaphors, it’s useful to practice the art of metaphor-making. Luckily, madlibs can help us. Enjoy the following metaphor-based madlibs as you ingrain the definition of metaphor into your mind.


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The Basics of Metaphors: A Metaphor Is a Bridge

A writer builds concepts metaphor by metaphor. Each metaphor is a bridge leading the reader to more full understanding of whatever the writer is describing. Despite how frequently we use metaphors, however, many writers are confused about the nuances. I’m going to walk you through the finer points of what a metaphor is, isn’t, and can be.

This is the first entry, and it will guide you through the basics of metaphors.

What Is a Metaphor?


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