How to Find a Metaphor in a Sentence

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A metaphor is a type of figurative language. It enables the speaker to convey a deeper meaning or a specific connotation of a word by comparing two things that are not logically related. Metaphors are like similes in that they compare two different concepts, but they are not cued in language with “like” or “as” the way similes are. Identifying metaphors requires an understanding of cultural language conventions, basic sentence structure and the communicative intent of the speaker.

1 Analyze the sentence

Analyze the sentence. Identify its subject, topic, action and any modifiers or adjectives that may be used. Look for the meaning of the sentence.

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2 Evaluate the context of the sentence

Evaluate the context of the sentence. For example, “I have a lot on my plate right now” could mean literally that the speaker doesn’t want more food, or it could be a metaphor to communicate that the speaker is overwhelmed with multiple tasks.

3 Remember that half

Remember that half of the comparison is usually implied in metaphors. For example, the plate in “my plate is full” is compared to the speaker’s implied responsibilities. This contrasts with similes in which the comparison is marked. In “I feel like the roof is about to cave in,” the speaker still implies that he is overwhelmed, but he alerts the listener to his use of figurative language with the word “like”.

4 Rewrite the sentence

Rewrite the sentence. Simplify it so that it just restates the main idea. For example, “I’m too busy” communicates the main idea in a concrete way and illustrates that the metaphor is “a lot on my plate”.

5 Consider that metaphors

Consider that metaphors are often culturally specific. Abstract comparisons reflect the language of popular culture so that they are usually immediately understood. For example, “rock star” is immediately understood to mean "very popular" in American English, but probably does not have the same implication in Spanish.

Meredyth Glass has been writing for educational institutions since 1995. She contributes to eHow in the areas of parenting, child development, language and social skill development and the importance of play. She holds a Master of Science in speech, language pathology from California State University, Northridge and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from California State University, Northridge.