The Essential List of 90+ Metaphor Examples in Literature and Pop Culture
What figure of speech is so meta that it forms the very basis of riddles? The answer: a metaphor.
As Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with.” Yet, paradoxically, they are an inescapable part of our daily lives — which is why it’s all the more important to understand exactly how they function.
To help, this article has a list of 97 metaphor examples to show you what they look like in the wild. But if you have a moment to spare, let's learn a bit more about what a metaphor is.
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B. Through this method of equation, metaphors can help explain concepts and ideas by colorfully linking the unknown to the known; the abstract to the concrete; the incomprehensible to the comprehensible. It can also be a rhetorical device that specifically appeals to our sensibilities as readers.
To give you a starting point, here are some examples of common metaphors:
- “Bill is an early bird.”
- “Life is a highway.”
- “Her eyes were diamonds.”
Note that metaphors are always non-literal. As much as you might like to greet your significant other with a warhammer in hand (“love is a battlefield”) or bring 50 tanks of gasoline every time you go on a date (“love is a journey”), that’s not likely to happen in reality. Another spoiler alert: no, Katy Perry doesn't literally think that you're a firework. Rather, these are all instances of metaphors in action.
How does a metaphor differ from a simile?
Simile and metaphor are both figures of speech that draw resemblances between two things. However, the devil’s in the details. Unlike metaphors, similes use like and as to directly create the comparison. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” for instance, is a simile. But if you say, “Life is a highway,” you’re putting a metaphor in motion.
The best way to understand how a metaphor can be used is to see it in practice — luckily, we’ve got a bucket-load of metaphor examples handy for you to peruse.
The Ultimate List of 90+ Metaphor Examples
Metaphors penetrate the entire spectrum of our existence — so we turned to many mediums to dig them up, from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the Backstreet Boys’ ancient discography. Feel free to skip to your section of interest below for metaphor examples.
Metaphors in literature are drops of water: as essential as they are ubiquitous. Writers use literary metaphors to evoke an emotional response or paint a vivid picture. Other times, a metaphor might explain a phenomenon. Given the amount of nuance that goes into it, a metaphor example in a text can sometimes deserve as much interpretation as the text itself.
Metaphors can make prose more muscular or imagery more vivid:
1. “Exhaustion is a thin blanket tattered with bullet holes.” ―If Then, Matthew De Abaitua
2. “But it is just two lovers, holding hands and in a hurry to reach their car, their locked hands a starfish leaping through the dark.” ―Rabbit, Run, John Updike
3. “The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” —Lord of the Flies, William Golding
4. “Bobby Holloway says my imagination is a three-hundred-ring circus. Currently I was in ring two hundred and ninety-nine, with elephants dancing and clowns cart wheeling and tigers leaping through rings of fire. The time had come to step back, leave the main tent, go buy some popcorn and a Coke, bliss out, cool down.” —Seize the Night, Dean Koontz
Writers frequently turn to metaphors to describe people in unexpected ways:
5. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” —Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
6. “Who had they been, all these mothers and sisters and wives? What were they now? Moons, blank and faceless, gleaming with borrowed light, each spinning loyally around a bigger sphere. ‘Invisible,’ said Faith under her breath. Women and girls were so often unseen, forgotten, afterthoughts. Faith herself had used it to good effect, hiding in plain sight and living a double life. But she had been blinded by exactly the same invisibility-of-the-mind, and was only just realizing it.” ―The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge
7. “’I am a shark, Cassie,’ he says slowly, drawing the words out, as if he might be speaking to me for the last time. Looking into my eyes with tears in his, as if he's seeing me for the last time. "A shark who dreamed he was a man.’” ―The Last Star, Rick Yancey
8. “Her mouth was a fountain of delight.” —The Storm, Kate Chopin
9. “The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” —Matilda, Roald Dahl
10. “Mr. Neck storms into class, a bull chasing thirty-three red flags." —Speak, Laurie Anderson
11. “’Well, you keep away from her, cause she’s a rattrap if I ever seen one.’” —Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Metaphors can help “visualize” a situation or put an event in context:
12. “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” —Isaiah 64:8
13. “He could hear Beatty's voice. ‘Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.’” —Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
To entertain and tickle the brain, metaphor examples sometimes compare two extremely unlike things:
14. “Delia was an overbearing cake with condescending frosting, and frankly, I was on a diet.” ―Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, Maggie Stiefvater
15. "The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” —Fault in Our Stars, John Green
16. “If wits were pins, the man would be a veritable hedgehog.” ―Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge
17. “What's this?" he inquired, none too pleasantly. "A circus?" "No, Julius. It's the end of the circus." "I see. And these are the clowns?" Foaly's head poked through the doorway. "Pardon me for interrupting your extended circus metaphor, but what the hell is that?” ―Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
18. “Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was the same as putting a red flag to a bu — the same as putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.” ―Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
Metaphors can help frame abstract concepts in ways that readers can easily grasp:
19. “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” —Fault In Our Stars, John Green
20. “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me.” —Macbeth, William Shakespeare
21. “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces.” ―Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey
22. “Wishes are thorns, he told himself sharply. They do us no good, just stick into our skin and hurt us.” ―A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge
23. “’Life' wrote a friend of mine, 'is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.” ―A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
24. “There was an invisible necklace of nows, stretching out in front of her along the crazy, twisting road, each bead a golden second.” ―Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge
25. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” —As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Particularly prominent in the realm of poetry is the extended metaphor: a single metaphor that extends throughout all or part of a piece of work. Also known as a conceit, it is used by poets to develop an idea or concept in great detail over the length of a poem. (And we have some metaphor examples for you below.)
If you’d like to get a sense of the indispensable role that metaphors play in poetry, look no further than what Robert Frost once said: “They are having night schools now, you know, for college graduates. Why? Because they don’t know when they are being fooled by a metaphor. Education by poetry is education by metaphor.”
Poets use metaphors directly in the text to explain emotions and opinions:
26. She must make him happy. She must be his favorite place in Minneapolis. You are a souvenir shop, where he goes to remember how much people miss him when he is gone. —“Unrequited Love Poem,” Sierra DeMulder
27. She is all states, and all princes, I. Nothing else is. Princes do but play us; compared to this, All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy. —“The Sun Rising,” John Donne
28. I watched a girl in a sundress kiss another girl on a park bench, and just as the sunlight spilled perfectly onto both of their hair, I thought to myself: How bravely beautiful it is, that sometimes, the sea wants the city, even when it has been told its entire life it was meant for the shore. —“I Watched A Girl In A Sundress,” Christopher Poindexter
Extended metaphors in particular explore and advance major themes in poems:
29. All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind. Thinking is always the stumbling stone to poetry. A great singer is he who sings our silences. How can you sing if your mouth be filled with food? How shall your hand be raised in blessing if it is filled with gold? They say the nightingale pierces his bosom with a thorn when he sings his love song. —“Sand and Foam,” Khalil Gibran
30. But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage / Can seldom see through his bars of rage / His wings are clipped and his feet are tied So he opens his throat to sing. —“Caged Bird,” Maya Angelou
31. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference. —“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost
32. Marriage is not a house or even a tent it is before that, and colder: the edge of the forest, the edge of the desert the edge of the receding glacier where painfully and with wonder at having survived even this far we are learning to make fire —“Habitation,” Margaret Atwood
33. These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis. They grew their toes and fingers well enough, Their little foreheads bulged with concentration. If they missed out on walking about like people It wasn't for any lack of mother-love. —“Stillborn,” Sylvia Plath
34. Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all. —“Hope Is The Thing With Feathers,” Emily Dickinson
Here’s some food for thought (35): you’ve probably already used a metaphor (or more) in your daily speech today without even realizing it. Metaphorical expressions pepper the English language by helping us illustrate and pinpoint exactly what we want to say. As a result, metaphors are everywhere in our common vocabulary: you may even be drowning in a sea (36) of them as we speak. But let’s cut to our list of metaphor examples before we jump the shark (37).
38. Love is a battlefield.
39. You’ve given me something to chew on.
40. He’s just blowing off steam.
41. That is music to my ears.
42. Love is a fine wine.
43. She’s a thorn in my side.
44. You are the light in my life.
45. He has the heart of a lion.
46. Am I talking to a brick wall?
47. He has ants in his pants.
48. Beauty is a fading flower.
49. She has a heart of stone.
50. Fear is a beast that feeds on attention.
51. Life is a journey.
52. He’s a late bloomer.
53. He is a lame duck now.
Metaphors are a must-have tool in every lyricist’s toolkit. From Elvis to Beyonce, songwriters use them to instinctively connect listeners to imagery and paint a visual for them. Most of the time, they find new ways to describe people, love — and, of course, break-ups. So if you’re thinking, “This is so sad Alexa play Titanium,” right now, you’re in the right place: here’s a look at some metaphor examples in songs.
54. You ain't nothin' but a hound dog / Cryin' all the time —“Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley
55. You're a fallen star / You're the getaway car / You're the line in the sand / When I go too far / You're the swimming pool / On an August day / And you're the perfect thing to say — “Everything,” Michael Buble
56. 'Cause baby you're a firework / Come on show 'em what your worth / Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!" / As you shoot across the sky-y-y — “Firework,” Katy Perry
57. I'm bulletproof nothing to lose / Fire away, fire away / Ricochet, you take your aim / Fire away, fire away / You shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium —“Titanium,” David Guetta
58. Life is a highway / I wanna ride it all night long / If you're going my way / I wanna drive it all night long —“Life Is A Highway,” Rascal Flatts
59. She's a Saturn with a sunroof / With her brown hair a-blowing / She's a soft place to land / And a good feeling knowing / She's a warm conversation —“She’s Everything,” Brad Paisley
60. I'm a marquise diamond / Could even make that Tiffany jealous / You say I give it to you hard / So bad, so bad / Make you never wanna leave / I won't, I won't —“Good For You,’ Selena Gomez
61. Remember those walls I built / Well, baby, they're tumbling down / And they didn't even put up a fight / They didn't even make a sound —“Halo,” Beyonce
62. Did I ever tell you you're my hero? / You're everything, everything I wish I could be / Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle / For you are the wind beneath my wings / 'Cause you are the wind beneath my wings —“Wind Beneath My Wings,” Bette Midler
63. You are my fire / The one desire / Believe when I say I want it that way —“I Want It That Way,” Backstreet Boys
64. Your body is a wonderland / Your body is a wonder (I'll use my hands) / Your body is a wonderland —“Your Body Is A Wonderland,” John Mayer
65. I'm walking on sunshine (Wow!) / I'm walking on sunshine (Wow!) / I'm walking on sunshine (Wow!) / And don't it feel good —“I’m Walking On Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves
66. If you wanna be with me / Baby there's a price to pay / I'm a genie in a bottle / You gotta rub me the right way —“Genie in a Bottle,” Christina Aguilera
67. If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor / Love is the rhythm, you are the music / If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor / You get what you're given it's all how you use it —“God Is A DJ,” P!nk
68. If this town / Is just an apple / Then let me take a bite —“Human Nature,” Michael Jackson
69. I just wanna be part of your symphony / Will you hold me tight and not let go? —“Symphony,” Clean Bandit
70. My heart's a stereo / It beats for you, so listen close / Hear my thoughts in every note —“Stereo Hearts,” Gym Class Heroes
71. I'm the sunshine in your hair / I'm the shadow on the ground / I'm the whisper in the wind / I'm your imaginary friend —“I’m Already There,” Lonestar
Films can add a different angle to the concept of a metaphor: because it’s a visual medium, certain objects on-screen will actually represent whatever the filmmaker intends it to represent. The same principle applies, of course — there’s still a direct comparison being made. It’s just that we can see the metaphor examples with our own eyes now.
Films can visually make clear comparisons between two elements on the screen:
72. “What beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late. I’ll bet that when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of all.” —from Mulan
73. “Love is an open door Can I say something crazy? Will you marry me? Can I say something even crazier? Yes!” —from Frozen
Metaphors are used in dialogue for characters to express themselves:
74. “You're television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy.” —Network
75. “Life's a climb. But the view is great.” —Hannah Montana: the Movie
Did you know that Plato was using metaphors to express his thoughts all the way back in 427 BC? Since then, some of our greatest minds have continued to turn to metaphors when illuminating ideas in front of the general public — a practice that’s become particularly prominent in political speeches and pithy witticisms. Here’s a sample of some of the ways that famous quotes have incorporated metaphor examples in the past.
76. “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” —Albert Einstein
77. “A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” —Benjamin Franklin
78. “America has tossed its cap over the wall of space.” —John F. Kennedy
79. “I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.” —Jon Stewart
80. “Conscience is a man’s compass.” —Vincent Van Gogh
81. “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” —Albert Camus
82. “Time is the moving image of eternity.” ―Plato
83. “Every human is a school subject. This is rather a metaphorical way of saying it, to put it straight, those you love are few, and the ones you detest are many.” ―Michael Bassey Johnson
84. “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers
85. “Life is little more than a loan shark: it exacts a very high rate of interest for the few pleasures it concedes.” —Luigi Pirandello
86. “America: in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.” —Barack Obama
87. “Bolshevism is a ghoul descending from a pile of skulls. It is not a policy; it is a disease. It is not a creed; it is a pestilence.” —Winston Churchill
88. “Books are mirrors of the soul.” —Virginia Woolf
89. “My life has a superb cast, but I can't figure out the plot.” —Ashleigh Brilliant
90. “I feel like we’re all in a super shitty Escape Room with really obvious clues like, ‘vote’ and ‘believe women’ and ‘don’t put children in cages.’” —Natasha Rothwell
91. “I travel the world, and I'm happy to say that America is still the great melting pot — maybe a chunky stew rather than a melting pot at this point, but you know what I mean.” —Philip Glass
92. “Life is a long road on a short journey.” —James Lendall Basford
93. “What therefore is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which become poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding.” —Nietzsche
94. “Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” —Christopher Morley
95. “Dying is a wild night and a new road.” —Emily Dickinson
96. “And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” —Walt Whitman
And as a bonus gift, here’s one last metaphor for the road, from one of our brightest philosophers. We’ll let Calvin have the last word:
Did we miss any of your favorite metaphors? Have more metaphor examples for us? Leave them in the (non-metaphorical) box below and we'll add them right in.