Metaphor Examples and Sentences - Grammar

What Are Metaphors? 

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.”

When you hear this song, do you think the singer is talking to real rays of sunshine? No, of course not! The singer is talking about someone they love, who makes them happy even when the sun isn’t shining.

“You are my sunshine” is a metaphor, which is a type of figurative language. Specifically, it’s a figure of speech used to make comparisons. But it’s also subtle because you only imply the comparison – you don’t state it directly.

You probably use metaphors frequently in your daily life! If you’re too sick to go to school, you might say you’re “under the weather.” Weather doesn’t affect how you feel, but everyone will know what you mean.

Or, if you’re having a tough time with an assignment, you could say, “I’m banging my head against the wall trying to do my homework”! That’s a metaphor! You’re not literally hurting your head, but it might feel like it.

Let’s look at more types of metaphors and examples in everyday language.

metaphors

Types of Metaphors with Examples

Standard Metaphors

A standard metaphor directly compares two things you think wouldn’t go together.

For example, take this common metaphor:

  • The supermarket is a zoo today.

You don’t automatically think of lions and tigers when buying a milk jug. But this sentence connects those two places. There are probably lots of customers at the supermarket, and the store is loud and hard to walk around. Almost like it’s filled with wild animals!

Here are some other examples:

  • My grandmother is an angel because she bakes cookies whenever I go over. 
  • With all the bumps, this bus ride is a nightmare!
  • Esther said her grandpa is a dinosaur because he doesn’t know how to use a cell phone. 

Implied Metaphors

An implied metaphor is similar to a standard one but even more subtle. In this figure of speech, you directly name only one of the things you’re comparing. The other one is implied.

For example:

  •  Jun squealed with delight at her birthday party.

The verb “squealed” might make you think of a pig, but Jun is a human, and she’s having a birthday party. So you’re comparing a girl to a pig without mentioning the animal.

Here are some other examples:

  • My older sister hops from major to major in college because she can’t decide what she likes best. (My sister is like a bunny or frog.)
  • The smile lit up his face, and his eyes twinkled. (His smile is like a light, and his eyes are like stars.
  • Good cheer radiated from everyone at the holiday party. (Good cheer is like heat or light.)

Extended Metaphors

Sometimes, writers want to spend a lot of time on one metaphor. They might use one idea over several lines, a whole poem, or even a novel.

When a metaphor is longer than just a few words, it’s called an extended metaphor.

For example:

  • In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends the whole book trying to kill the white whale. This pursuit can represent many things, including facing challenges in one’s life. The whale, as well, is a metaphor for several ideas, including nature, evil, and God.
  • In Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers. Over several stanzas, she compares the idea of hope to a bird.

But you can find extended metaphors anywhere, not just in famous literature. For instance, suppose you wrote an essay about your little sister. In it, you wrote a paragraph comparing her to a monkey because she’s wild and playful. That would also be an extended metaphor! 

Visual Metaphors

Rather than using words, a visual metaphor uses images to connect two things or ideas.

For example:

  • If you see a picture of a racing bike next to a cheetah, you’ll connect those two things. In your head, you will assume that if you ride that bike, you’ll be as fast as a cheetah.
  • On the other hand, you wouldn’t put a picture of a turtle next to the bike because you’d assume the bike went really slowly.

Visual metaphors are often used in advertising, but they’re also used in movies, graphic novels, and other media.

Here are some more examples of visual metaphors. Picture them as images:

  • A glass of ice water in the middle of a desert (represents quenching someone’s thirst)
  • A person dressed in red, white, and blue (represents patriotism)
  • A person hunched over with a globe on their shoulders (represents carrying an enormous burden)

Visual metaphors are extremely useful because they correlate products or ideas with something else, like a feeling or emotion. Next time you’re watching an advert, look at how many visual metaphors you find!

Mixed Metaphors

Metaphors are beneficial figures of speech for describing things and conveying ideas. But when you combine two metaphors, you often just get a mess! These are called mixed metaphors, and a lot of the time, they’re nonsense.

For example:

  •  Every cloud has a silver lining. (Even in sad situations, there’s always something good.)
  •  There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (Referring to a big reward at the end of a journey.)

But if you combine them by saying, “There’s a silver lining at the end of the rainbow,” it doesn’t make any sense!

Here are some other examples of mixed metaphors:

  • Killing time is always greener on the other side. (“Killing Time” and “The grass is always greener on the other side”)
  • Don’t count your nest egg before it hatches. (“Nest-egg” and “Don’t count your eggs before they hatch”)

Dead Metaphors

One of the exciting things about language is that it changes significantly over time. As part of that, metaphors change too!

Sometimes, people use a metaphor for so long that its meaning changes. In other words, a modern audience won’t understand the original imagery. When that happens, it’s called a dead metaphor.

For example:

  • People often keep their car’s registration or emergency supplies in the glove box or glove compartment.

In early automobiles, there was a box up front to keep the gloves you’d wear while driving. But, we don’t usually wear gloves in the car unless it’s cold out; however, we still call that compartment a “glove box.”

Here are some other dead metaphors:

  • You “roll-up” the window in the car, even though most vehicles have automatic buttons instead of cranks.
  • When writing an exam, your teacher might say, “time is running out!” But that would make more sense if they kept track with an hourglass full of sand instead of a clock.

Metaphor Examples in Sentences

Metaphors are wonderful figures of speech for many situations. Here are some examples of simple metaphors in different scenarios. 

Emotions

When describing how you’re feeling, it’s helpful to use a metaphor. Since emotions aren’t concrete, a metaphor can give someone else an idea of what’s going on in your head.

  • College applications weighed on her mind. (She was thinking a lot about the applications.)
  • His father’s death cut him to the quick. (His father’s death is excruciating for him.)
  • After the argument, Herman went outside to let off some steam. (Herman takes some time to calm down.)

Setting

You can use metaphors to set a scene or describe surroundings. It’s a very poetic way to describe an environment.

  • A blanket of mist settled over the field, obscuring the mountains. (The mist isn’t literally a blanket, but it’s covering the field.)
  • The dew leaves diamonds on each blade of grass in the morning. (Dew drops aren’t actually diamonds, but they look like them.
  • The stars wink and blink at me as I lie on my back. (Stars look like human eyes.)

For Kids

Metaphors don’t have to be complicated. Simple metaphors can be entertaining for kids!

  • Don’t be such a couch potato. (Don’t be lazy.)
  • I’m full of beans. (I have lots of energy.)
  • Your room is a pigsty! (Your room is really messy.)
  • Juan is a chicken. He’s too afraid to go into the woods. (Juan is scared.)
  • The sunlight danced on the waves. (The sun is reflected on the water)
  • My mom says Min’s stomach is a bottomless pit. (My mom says Min eats a lot.)

In Literature

There are lots of famous examples of metaphors in literature. They appear in everything from essays to poems, novels, plays, and songs.

Here are some famous metaphor examples:

  • Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken (The roads as symbols of choices in life)
  • Emily Dickinson’s poem My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun. (Comparing her life and a gun.)
  • “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” ~ Shakespeare, Romeo, and Juliet. (Juliet is like the sun because she is striking and beautiful.)
  • “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” ~ Shakespeare, As You Like It. (Comparing life to a theater production.)
  • “'Cause baby, you're a firework” ~ Katy Perry, Firework. (You’re bright and important)
  • “You shoot me down, but I won't fall / I am titanium” ~ David Guetta, Titanium.(I’m strong.)

Metaphor vs. Simile

When you don’t want to make a comparison outright, you can use a metaphor because it’s a poetic figure of speech. But what if you do want to make an explicit comparison?

That’s when you would use a simile! A simile is very similar to a metaphor because a simile is a figure of speech for making comparisons. However, similes use the words “like” or “as.”

For example:

  • “You laugh like a hyena.” (Comparing laughter to a Hyena’s cackle.)
  • She ran like the wind. (Comparing the speed of running to the speed of the wind.)
  • He shined his shoes as a cat grooms its paws. (Comparing shining shoes to cat’s grooming.)

As you can see, each of these sentences connects two different things. You could use metaphors instead in these situations, but you’d have to change each sentence to remove “like” or “as.”

Often you’ll see similes and metaphors mixed together in writing. The following are two excerpts from Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise. The first uses similes:

  • “Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still, I'll rise.”

The poet uses the word “like” to compare herself to rising moons, suns, and hopes.

Then, in a later stanza, she uses both metaphors and similes:

  • “You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Here the first three lines are metaphors: “shoot with words,” “cut with eyes,” and “kill with hatefulness.” And in the last line, she compares herself directly to air with “like.”

Conclusion

After this lesson, you’ll be the sharpest pencil in the box! You’re not literally a pencil, but you’re brilliant because now you understand metaphors!

Metaphorical language is a great way to connect two seemingly different things. And there are infinite ways to describe things with metaphors – your imagination only limits you.

Some metaphors are so well-used they’re cliches. And others are brand new. So, you can invent your own creative metaphors!

Also, listen to conversations around you and pay attention to what you read: there are metaphors everywhere. You can learn a lot by listening to others.

There are so many other interesting figures of speech to explore, so be sure to check out the other pages on this site. See, grammar can be fun!