We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Are the Different Types of Metaphors?

By Bobby R. Goldsmith
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Metaphor is a rhetorical device used to compare two dissimilar objects or ideas in an implication that establishes an equivalency between the two. There are numerous types of metaphors. They are used in both classic rhetorical constructions and in everyday casual language. The degree of the comparison dictates what type of metaphor it is. Though there are more than a dozen distinct types of metaphors, there are five primary types: allegorical, absolute, mixed, extended, and dead metaphors.

Allegory is a metaphor that employs an extended story illustrating the comparison between two things using symbols rather than explicit words. An allegory in literature often presents the overt elements of a given story along with subtle, nuanced commentary for other events that the author wishes to show an equivalency with. For example, an element of the novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is considered an allegory for the resurrection of Christ.

Absolute metaphor, compared with other types, cannot be obfuscated or reduced in any way. An absolute metaphor presents a simple equivalency, such as light standing for knowledge or snow indicating purity. Absolute metaphors can be symbolic or literal, and they differ from other types of metaphors in that they cannot be replaced by other metaphoric constructions.

Mixed metaphor is one of the most common types of metaphors, yet they may be difficult to understand. A mixed metaphor is the blending of two contradictory elements that are completely inconsistent in type, yet the symbolic meaning of the comparison is still conveyed. Sometimes the mixed metaphor can be employed intentionally for effect. For example, "There's no place like a home on the range" blends two well-known idioms.

Extended metaphor presents a complex comparison with multiple objects. It compares a primary object with a symbolic object, then compares secondary objects connected to the primary with other elements of the symbolic object. For example, Shakespeare's famous "All the world's a stage, And the men and women merely players" is an extended metaphor, in which the "world" and the "stage" act as the primary objects, while "we" and "players" represent the secondary objects.

Dead metaphor offers a comparison that is not symbolic in form, but to physical motion instead. A dead metaphor is simply a comparison that goes unnoticed because the metaphor rests on a comparison that has simply become part of the language. It often involves the use of an idiom. For example, the sentence "the committee will hold a meeting" is a dead metaphor with respect to the word hold. The committee cannot physically grasp the meeting, but the word is being used to equate a physical action with a conceptual one.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Ana1234 — On Feb 01, 2014

I kind of like it when someone uses a mixed metaphor well, and I think of all the metaphor types it gets a bad name for no reason. I mean the whole point of metaphors is to make something clear. If a mixed metaphor manages to do that, then does it really make a difference if it isn't traditional?

Of course, sometimes they aren't used on purpose and they can make something less clear, in which case, of course, they should be sorted out.

By irontoenail — On Feb 01, 2014

@croydon - I think eventually dead metaphors just become part of the language though. Like when people say "run for office". If you look up the word "run" that particular meaning isn't a figure of speech. It's literally considered to be a definition of the word that it is used when a politician is attempting to win a particular office.

But originally it would have been a metaphor, probably because the elections were being compared to a race.

I think it would be quite cool to see someone make a bunch of portrayals of dead metaphors in literal pictorial form though. Like someone actually holding a meeting in a giant hand, or two old politicians trying to sprint past each other down a race track.

By croydon — On Jan 31, 2014

I've never heard that about a dead metaphor before. That's a pretty interesting example as well, since I don't think many people would even notice that was a metaphor.

There are actually quite a few examples of that metaphor type in English if you start looking for them. "Fishing for compliments" is one, although that one might be a little more obvious when you think about it. Or maybe "I didn't catch that" is a better example. You aren't literally trying to catch the meaning, after all.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.