Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a metaphor?

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A metaphor is a literary figurative device used to compare two unlike things in a colorful way. It differs from a simile because it does not use the words “like” or “as.” Shakespeare wrote many memorable metaphors, like this one: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.” He is comparing the world to a stage where we all play our parts, perhaps with little control over our destinies. This metaphor could be changed into a simile with a simple revision. “All the world is LIKE a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

There’s an old song from 1929 called “You’re the Cream in My Coffee.” The first two lines are “You’re the cream in my coffee, you’re the salt in my stew.” Both are metaphors. They suggest the recipient of these words add flavor to the singer’s world. The lyrics could be converted to similes by writing: “You’re LIKE the cream in my coffee. You’re LIKE the salt in my stew.”

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