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Video:What Is a Metaphor?

with Heather Kamins

A metaphor is an effective literary tool that is also deeply ingrained in everyday conversation. Learn what a metaphor is and common uses of it in this grammar video from About.com.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is a Metaphor?

Hello. This is Heather Kamins for About.com, and today we'll explain what a metaphor is.

What is a Metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech that indirectly compares two things to highlight some similarity between them. Unlike a simile, which uses like or as, a metaphor implies the connection between those two things. So for example, someone who's very efficient and a hard worker, you might say that person is a machine.

Some metaphors are so commonly used and so deeply ingrained in our language that we might not always realize that we're using them. For example, if you say that you're digging up information, that compares finding information to physically digging up something that's buried in the ground.

A lot of those common metaphors can be grouped into families. For example, when we're talking about status, we're often talking about up and down. Someone with more status is said to have higher status. We use terms like climbing the corporate ladder, moving up in the world; whereas someone who has less status is said to have lower status. They're at the bottom of the food chain or the low man on the totem pole.

Using Metaphores in Writing

There are a few things you want to watch out for when you're using metaphors in your own writing. One of those is cliches: overused, unoriginal phrases that you've heard many times before. So for example, it's raining cats and dogs. That's an overused phrase, and if you want to describe heavy rain, you wouldn't necessarily want to use that. You might want to use more literal language or come up with your own metaphor.

Another thing you want to watch out for are mixed metaphors. These are two different metaphors, two different comparisons pushed together - but they don't really go together. So for example, step up to the plate and grab the bull by the horns. Step up to the plate is a baseball metaphor; grab the bull by the horns really has nothing to do with baseball. So be careful and watch out for that.Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.

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