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

  2. A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.

For example:

Phil is a lion . (apparently Phil sleeps for 15 to 18 hours a day and is very brave when awake)


  1. A comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.

  2. A thing which is comparable to something else in significant respects.

For example:

Life is a race. The one who keeps running wins the race and the one who stops to catch a breath loses.

My research for the difference between "metaphor" and "analogy" yielded this:

Metaphors and similes are tools used to draw an analogy. Therefore, analogy is more extensive and elaborate than either a simile or a metaphor.

However, this is not very helpful in concluding on the differences between them. (Is it different? Can something be a metaphor and not an analogy or vice-versa ?)

So, my question is, what is the distinct difference between "metaphor" and "analogy"?


3 Answers 3


We have these words as they are used by specialists in literature and semiotics and as they are used by the general public.

As used by the general public, a metaphor is a way of speaking about something indirectly by speaking of it as something else with which it has something important in common.

Many metaphors are so often used that they become hackneyed "figures of speech".

It was a tough slog, but we finally got the new system up and running.

The effort to install a system does not involve any sort of arduous walk through difficult terrain, but "tough slog" has come to mean "hard work".

He's a budget hawk.

He keeps a very sharp eye on the budget. He notices even the slightest budget overrun. Hawks can detect subtle movements in the grass a long way off, which tell them where their prey are.

She was his rock, and he was her ticket out of town.

She is emotionally stable and a reliable friend in times of stress and trouble; he presented the opportunity for her to leave that place and start a fresh life elsewhere.

Some people make a distinction between similes and metaphors, and in certain contexts the distinction is an important one, but in others, not:

He watches the budget like a hawk.

She was like a rock for him.


I cannot agree with the answer that metaphor and simile are grammatical concepts.

They can be expressed grammatically or ungrammatically.

John is like a wolf

is a grammatical simile

John am like a wolf

is an ungrammatical simile.

The difference between a simile and a metaphor lies in their truth value.

The current president of the U.S. is a blind squirrel

is obviously not literally true. It is not even a seriously maintained opinion.

The current president of the U.S. is like a blind squirrel

implies the additional words “in one or more respects.” It may or may not be true in any respect, but that cannot be determined until we are told in what respect the two terms are considered to be similar. And even if you believe that similarity to be contrary to fact, it may be that the speaker believes it to be true.

In short, a metaphor does not even purport to be literally true whereas a simile does purport to point out a true similarity. Both are analogies in the sense that their intended meaning is to point out a similarity in some respect between two different things.

But analogy has other meanings than similarity in some limited number of respects. It can also mean a very close similarity in many different respects. This idea can range from the idea of homomorphisms, which claims that two things different superficially are identical when looked at from a more general perspective, to the idea of allegory, which admits that two things are different but so similar that it is highly useful to the understanding to talk about them as though they are true homomorphisms.

In the broadest sense, “analogy” means to talk about something in terms of similarity to something else. In that sense, simile, metaphor, allegory, and homomorphism represent different degrees of analogy. However, in a different sense, “analogy” means an assertion of similarity sufficient that it makes practical sense to talk about one thing in terms of another. in that latter sense, an analogy is different from simile, metaphor, and allegory, no one thinks it makes practical sense to study the ocean by studying a cup of wine even though Homer sings of the wine-dark sea.


Metaphor and simile are grammatical concepts.
Metaphor: “John is a wolf.”
Simile: “John is like a wolf.”
I am not aware of any systematic difference between these, apart from that represented by the word “like” [i.e. “is like” as opposed to “is”], above. Conversely, see below.

Analogy is not a grammatical concept. Any account or description of one concept or construct, in terms of another, is an analogy. Both of the above are thus analogies — actually the same analogy.

One might introduce an analogy as a simile — e.g. “An airport is like a heart.” In this example, one is left with a sense of tension until the speaker explains how an airport is like a heart. On its own, I would say that the above statement is a simile, but is a pathological one [like a crashed car is a pathological instance of a car]. In other words, one would not normally say the above, except when about to explain an analogy; it does not stand on its own.

Similarly, an “artsy” film might express an analogy between, for instance, plants competing and war (presumably implying that war is inevitable). One would say that this was an analogy, but it is not really a simile — mostly for the technical reason that no one (pertinently) said, “War is like plants competing.”, but also because, again, the analogy needs to be explained. (I note again that analogies can be simple or complex.)

Note that one can not say, “War is plants competing.”; this has the form of a metaphor ((in English, anyway)), but it is the wrong type of “is” — the subject is not (putatively/metaphorically) an instance [nor type] of the object.

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