What is a Metaphor? Definition and Examples

The metaphor Is a figure, mainly used in literature, who uses a word, phrase or sentence in a sense other than that which determines its meaning, but holds an analogy in the context in which it is placed.

In the metaphor, the meaning is shifted to give priority to aesthetics, especially with regard to sound. Its origins are in the Poetics and Rhetoric from Aristotle . He understood that the objects were Gender names or Species names .

Metaphor of freedom

L A metaphor was given when the name was changed to one thing for another, being able to constitute analogies. The philosopher takes them as a form of learning, especially thanks to their similarities.

The metaphor throughout history continued to be seen as transition and transference. In the Middle Ages , Literary works mediated by Christianity had a great presence of metaphor.

Already in the Renaissance , The metaphor ceased to be understood as a substitution and was visualized as an interchange between the meanings that can be posed in a text.

The metaphor is a literary figure, which can also be a rhetorical figure. It is an expression endowed with figurative meaning . In a rhetorical metaphor are asserted facts that are not such, unlike in similes. It can be explicit or implicit, although in no case should the facts indicate something literal.

Many years later, the metaphor became more complex. Paul Ricoeur Has been one of the philosophers who has worked the most on the subject of metaphor.

In his work The living metaphor , States that it has an inescapable hermeneutic character and that it functions to describe the reality in which it is emitted.

The metaphor goes from being an ornament or something merely aesthetic to an informative element that generates the author of the same to describe its surroundings.

In this same tonic, metaphors have broken into everyday language giving a new meaning to different words.

Examples of metaphors

There are many ways to classify metaphors. It is often classified as impure, pure, appositional and prepositional complement.

In addition, there are other less frequent types such as the negative metaphor. In all the examples the elements of the metaphor can be observed: tenor, vehicle and foundation.

Impure or common metaphor

These types of metaphors are those in which a scheme is maintained where there are two elements, one real and one imaginary, connected by a verb that is often the verb to be.


We can find references to this type of metaphor from the beginnings of the Modern Age, in 1500. In works like La Celestina Of Fernando de Rojas, Melibea expresses itself in the face of the death of his beloved Calixto"My good and my pleasure, everything is Gone in smoke !". That is, they vanished, just as smoke does.

At the same time, the impure metaphor was consolidated with the publication of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha , Written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

El Quijote, describes her lover, Dulcinea del Toboso in this way"... His forehead effusive fields, his eyebrows bows of heaven, his sun eyes, his pink cheeks, his coral lips, pearls his teeth, alabaster his neck, marble his chest ...". All this fragment constitutes an impure metaphor, because it is affirmed that Dulcinea is all those things.

The Spanish priest Pedro Calderón de la Barca takes this type of metaphor to its climax. Within the framework of the Spanish Golden Century during Baroque , Calderón de la Barca writes his most outstanding play, which is still world famous: The life is dream .

In this work, freedom is pursued as the goal of realization of the human being. Sigismund, at the end of the first act, concludes" What is life? A frenzy. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a fiction, and the greatest good is small; That all life is dream, and dreams, dreams are ".

For Segismundo, the life is something diffuse and it says so through its metaphors. Life is Dream, which is very different from the fact that life is a dream. But finally, dreams are just that.

Pure metaphor

Pure metaphors can be identified when the real term is omitted because it is replaced by the imaginary, making its addition in the text unnecessary.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude Narrated several episodes with the use of this type of pure metaphor. Referring to Colonel Aureliano Buendia, García Márquez tells"The countless women he met in the Desert of love , and that They dispersed their seed All along the coast, had left no trace of their feelings."

In these cases the real element is discarded, so it must be inferred. The expression Desert of love Can give an idea of ​​the disastrous and little fruitful that were the sentimental relations of Aureliano Buendía.

Moreover, it is evident that the metaphor They dispersed their seed Refers to the children that the colonel had watered on the coast.

The Spanish singer Joaquín Sabina in his work And yet , Sings" Because a house without you is an embassy , The hallway of an early morning train...". Again, it is stated in a pure metaphor how uncomfortable it feels to be without your loved one in a house, feeling foreign and unhappy.

Appositional metaphor

On the other hand, the appositional metaphors are able to distinguish the real element from the figure with the imaginary element without the need for any preposition. Without this word, the elements are usually separated by a comma.

It is very rare to find this type of metaphor in literature. It is assumed, therefore, that it is much easier to write with prepositional complement metaphors that graph well the literary figure raised.


It is not difficult to explain how appositional metaphors work. In the phrase" Your face, morning light "It is being affirmed that his face is The light of the morning without adding the verb to be. On the other hand, if we say" Your eyes, bluffs of your face "It is understood that it is being said that the lanterns of the face, in this case, are the eyes.

Moving on in history, in romanticism also the impure metaphor was commonly used. In Don Juan Tenorio , Written by José Zorrilla, Tenorio sends a letter to his girlfriend Doña Inés saying" Agnes, soul Of my soul…". Agnes is The soul of his soul, but Zorrilla to prove it need not add any verb.

Spanish writer Rafael Alberti, member of the Generation of 27 , In his poem Carnation metamorphosis Pray" Let the stars, dew; Than the heat, the snow. He was wrong." Again, it is not essential to add some verb or preposition to bring together the real element of the imaginary.

Prepositional complement metaphor

This type of metaphor is constituted as the opposite of the appositional metaphor. Regardless of order, the real or imaginary element is separated by means of a preposition. Frequently, the preposition that occupies the middle of this metaphor is from .


The prominent playwright and writer Stephen Shakespeare made use of the metaphor of prepositional complement.

In one of his masterpieces, Hamlet, Reflects in his martyrdom saying"Because it is necessary that we stop thinking about what dreams can happen in that Dream of death , When we have gotten rid of Whirlwind of life ". Death is a dream, it can be nightmare, and the life that suffers is a whirlwind, a torture.

The Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, to concretize the magical realism embodied in his works had to do many metaphors. In his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude , This materializes.

Speaking of Pilar Ternera, a prostitute, he affirmed that"He never denied the favor, as he was not denied to the countless men who looked for it even in the Twilight of his maturity , Without giving him money or love, and only sometimes pleasure."

In the expression"... twilight of maturity..."one can clearly see a metaphor of prepositional complement, where twilight Is the imaginary element and maturity the real.

In Miss Barbara, Of Rómulo Gallegos, affirms in its initial pages that"Of conversations of the crew of the canoe surprised by Asdrúbal, had discovered this one that in the previous trip That Moloch of the rubber jungle He had offered twenty ounces for Barbarita."

Moloch is a Canaanite god, whose physical form is similar to the traditional conception of the devil. Gallegos uses a metaphor, in which it denominates like Moloch to the father of Barbara that wants to sell it.

The Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga in his tragicómico tale The slain hen Affirms that when one of the children of the family was born they put all their hope in him but finally it came out idiot.

"He was born, and his health and limpidity of laughter They rekindled the extinguished future . But at eighteen months the convulsions of the firstborn were repeated, and the next day the second child dawned idiot." He Future extinct Refers to the situation that the family was looking at at that moment and how the son changed his perception, Reenending it .

Also it can be elucidated in the well-known poem of the famous Venezuelan poet Andrés Eloy Blanco Paint me black angels . "Painter born in my land, With the foreign brush , A painter who follows the course of so many old painters, even if the Virgin is white, paint me black angels."

Blanco refers to the Venezuelan painters but studied and with markedly European influence, who denied the ethnography of the Venezuelan.

Finally, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda Has been cataloged as a master of literature. In all his creations can be appreciated various literary forms that contribute to enrich his poems, granting them a different meaning for each reader.

For example, in its Poem 20 from the book Twenty love poems and a desperate song , Neruda states that" The same night whitening the same trees (...). My voice searched the wind to touch her ear ".

Neruda in the first fragment makes us understand that the light of the moon is responsible for whitening the trees. On the contrary, in the second he applies a synesthesia along with a metaphor, using the wind as a means of connecting his voice with gold ear.

Negative metaphor

Negative metaphors are easy to elucidate, because either of the two elements, either the imaginary or the real, is denied so that the opponent can be affirmed. This type is quite common in all types of literature, with an emphasis on poetry.


It is also rare to get this type of metaphor in literary works. You should always deny one of the two elements.

Federico García Lorca in his poem New York (Office and complaint) from the book A poet in New York States that" It is not the hell, it is the street ". It is clear the opposite of hell and street, but it is also evident that the street looks like hell because there was a need to clarify.

Antonio Machado sentences the negative metaphor in his poem Proverbs and songs , Later adapted by Joan Manuel Serrat in the song Songs .

"Walker, There is no road, there is road when walking (...) Walker, There is no road, but stelae in the sea ". In the metaphor used by Machado and so popularized by music, it is affirmed that the road is always ahead, which are our steps. That there is no path, then Road is made when walking .


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  2. Calderón, P. (2001). The life is dream . Albacete: Books on the Net. Retrieved from dipualba.es.
  3. From Cervantes, M. (s.f.) The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha . Caracas: Collection Books Bohemia Magazine.
  4. De Rojas, F. (1899) La Celestina . Vigo: Eugenio Krapf's bookshop. Retrieved from http://fenix.pntic.mec.es
  5. Editorial Santillana. (2008). Language and Communication 1 . Caracas: Editorial Santillana.
  6. Editorial Santillana. (2008). Language and Communication 2 . Caracas: Editorial Santillana.
  7. Gallegos, R. (2000). Miss Barbara . Caracas: Biblioteca Nacional.
  8. García. F. (s.f.) New York (Office and Complaint). A poet in New York . Retrieved from epdlp.com.
  9. García, G. (s.f.). One Hundred Years of Solitude . Recovered from bdigital.bnjm.cu.
  10. Martínez, J. (1996). And yet. In Me me with you . [CD]. Madrid: BMG.
  11. Peña, R. and Yépez, L. (2006). Language and literature . Caracas: Distribuidora Escolar.
  12. Ricoeur, P. (2001). The living metaphor . English:

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