Metaphor : a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable

I don't know how to understand. I tried to divide the sentence.
a figure of speech //in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action //to which it is not literally applicable

  1. what is the usage and meaning of "in which"?
  2. what is the meaning of "is applied to"?
  3. what is the usage and meaning of "to which"??

I tried to find the answer trolling the internet. There are tons of information so it's really difficult to find proper information.

After reading answers and replies, I tried to make sentence.

There is a figure of speech.
A word or phrase is applied to an object or action in the figure of speech.
It is not literally applicable to the object or action.

Is this right analysis? If so, what does "it" mean in the last sentence.

  • In a figure of speech in which [something happens], the highlighted element refers back to [a particular type of] figure of speech - the implication being there are other "figures of speech" in which something else happens. Applied = used, and to which refers back to an object or action (of a type that doesn't relate to the literal sense of the metaphor). – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '17 at 18:23
  • I'm assuming you do actually understand what metaphor means. If not, read several more definitions until you understand that, which will probably make it easier for you to understand the phrasing used in the particular definition you've cited above. – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '17 at 18:26
  • A small side note: while the original meaning of trolling is, in fact, "searching systematically", today it's much more common to use the word (especially when referring to the Internet) to mean "starting arguments by posting intentionally inflammatory comments". Which I hope you weren't doing :) – Maciej Stachowski Jan 26 '17 at 20:25
  • @MaciejStachowski you can substitute "trolling" for the phonetically similar "trawling" – mstorkson Jan 26 '17 at 21:38
  • @FumbleFingers OMG.... I can't understand your explanation.... .... – Ting Choe Jan 27 '17 at 14:45

Here is a key.

And here is a lock to which the key belongs.

The key belongs to the lock. Hence, "to which the key belongs".

Here is a bowl. That is the cabinet in which the bowl belongs.

The bowl belongs in the cabinet.

Here is a vase, and that is the table on which the vase belongs.

The vase belongs on the table.

Here is a log cabin, and that is the forest from which the logs were harvested.

The logs were harvested from the forest.

  • I like your explanation. However, I have still difficulty to understand. Could you make sentences using my question sentence? – Ting Choe Jan 28 '17 at 5:34
  • Your sample question is a very difficult one for learners. In my examples, I have given prepositional phrases ( on the table, in the cabinet, and from the forest) with physical objects, which makes it easier for a learner to understand the prepositions on, in, and from. However, in your question, the noun is a metaphorical abstraction, "figure of speech". If you understand the word figure to be a kind of verbal pattern, then it becomes easier to see why we say "in the figure". We can speak of the details and shapes which appear in a pattern. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 28 '17 at 11:32
  • The word figure is complex. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/figure It has many figurative meanings (sorry for the pun) but at a basic literal level, it is a shape or pattern. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 28 '17 at 11:33
  • I analysed following your instructions. Could you check my alanysis? – Ting Choe Jan 28 '17 at 12:20

Your analysis is correct. Let's break down the original definition into separate sentences:

Metaphor : a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

Metaphor is a figure of speech.

In this figure of speech, a word or phrase is applied to an object or action.

This word or phrase is not literally applicable to that object or action.

The opposite of literal is figurative. That is why metaphor is a figure of speech: it says something that is not literally true.

Here is an example:

My apartment is a shambles.

Shambles means slaughterhouse, a place where animals are killed for meat. My apartment is not literally a slaughterhouse; I do not actually kill animals there. So the word shambles is not literally applicable to my apartment. So when I apply that word to this place, I am using it metaphorically. What I'm actually saying is that my apartment is dirty and messy, in the same way that a slaughterhouse might be.

So I've used a figure of speech that takes a word, shambles, and applied it to an object, my apartment, to which the word is not literally applicable. And voilà: a metaphor. Makes sense?


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