Idiom vs Metaphor – How Are They Different?

Idioms and metaphors are both types of figurative language, but they are actually two very different things. An idiom is a phrase that has a specific meaning that is different from the literal meanings of the words in the phrase. A metaphor, on the other hand, is a comparison between two things using the word “like” or “as.” In this blog post, we will explore the differences between idioms and metaphors in more detail.

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Idiom vs Metaphor – Main Difference

man comparing idiom vs metaphor

The main difference between idioms and metaphors is that idioms are used to make a point, while metaphors are used to make a comparison.

  • An idiom is an expression that cannot be taken literally, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.”
  • A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent another, such as “the world is my oyster.”

Idioms are often used for comedic or dramatic effect, while metaphors are more often used for poetic effect. Idioms use words to convert a meaning that is different than their literal meaning. Metaphors are more direct that use words that are literally applicable. Both idioms and metaphors are used by skilled writers.

Takeaway: Although an idiom can be a metaphor, they are not the same thing. Metaphors are clear & direct comparisons between two things.

Idiom Definition

An idiom is a figure of speech that is used to convey a non-literal meaning. Idioms are often used to express emotions or convey a message in a more creative way.

Here are some common idioms:

  • I’m feeling under the weather” is often used to describe feeling ill.
  • it’s raining cats and dogs” is used to describe heavy rain.
  • you drive with a lead foot” is used to say you drive too fast.
  • She’s a real ball of fire.” This means she’s full of energy.
  • He’s a snake in the grass.” This means he’s sneaky and untrustworthy.
  • That was a piece of cake.” This means that was easy.

Idioms are great but they can also be difficult for non-native speakers to understand. So make sure the person you are speaking with understands what you are saying. Use idioms sparingly in your writing!

Also, be sure to check out our post about analogy vs allegory to learn more about these commonly confused literary devices!

Takeaway: Type of figurative language that conveys a message with words that mean something other than their original meaning.

Metaphor Definition

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses comparison to express a concept or idea. Unlike similes, which use the words “like” or “as” to make a comparison, metaphors directly compare two things without using these words.

The history of the metaphor is unclear, but it is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece in the 15th century. Let’s just say this figurative langue is far from new.

Metaphors & symbolism are often used in literature, poetry, and song lyrics as a way to add depth and meaning. They are also used in everyday speech to add color and personality. Metaphors are a powerful communication tool, but they should not be overused.

Here are some common metaphors:

  • Love is a battlefield” is a metaphor that compares love to a war zone.
  • My boss is a bear today.” This means he’s in a bad mood and is likely to be grumpy.
  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” This means I’m very hungry.
  • She’s a peach.” This means she’s nice and kind.
  • He’s such a snake!” This means he’s sneaky and untrustworthy.
  • The test was a breeze.” This means the test was easy.
  • “Mark is a couch potato” This phrase means that mark is lazy.
  • “My Dad is a drill seargent This phrase means that my dad is very strict.
  • “Suzy is an early bird” This phrase means that Suzy wakes up early each day.

Takeaway: Metaphors are used to make a comparison without using the words “like” or “as”. They are used to add emphasis and help create a visual image.

Can They Be The Same?

As we already mentioned, idioms and metaphors are NOT the same things. However, in some cases metaphors are used so frequently in conversation and writing that they become idioms.

An implied metaphor is most likely to also be an idiom. This is because these types of metaphors make an implied comparison between two things. Just like idioms, they make the audience think.

Takeaway: Idioms can be metaphors, but not all metaphors are idioms.

Types of Metaphors

There are several types of figurative language that are considered to be types of metaphors. These phrases can be used to add emphasis or help explain a topic to someone who has trouble understanding.

1) Similes

Just like metaphors, similes make a comparison between two unlike things. However, similes use the words “like” and “as” to make a comparison. Here are some common similies:

  • “as fast as a cheetah”
  • “as heavy as an elephant.”
  • “as strong as an ox.

2) Hyperbole

A hyperbole is a form of an extreme exaggeration to make a point. They are not meant to be taken literally. Here are more examples.

  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”
  • “the best thing since sliced bread!”
  • “Your brain is pea-sized!”

3) Metonymy

A figure of speech is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used to refer to something else, usually for the purpose of partial or easy substitution. Here are some examples.

  • the pen is mightier than the sword.” The word “pen” is used as a metonymy for “written words”.
  • The White House said they’re looking into the matter” White House is used as a substitute for “government.”

4) Personification

Personification is the act of giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena. In other words, it’s when you make things sound like people. Here are some examples.

  • The sun smiled down on me.”
  • “My heart aches for you.”

What Is The Difference Between A Colloquialism & Idiom?

The difference is that colloquialisms are informal words or phrases used in regular conversation & are specific to a particular region. Idioms are phrases that have a figurative & abstract meaning that is different from their literal meaning.

  • Colloquialisms often include slang and may not be widely understood outside of a specific community or region
  • Idioms are more universal and can be used across different cultures and languages.

Colloquialisms are very popular sayings or phrases. However, idioms are more than that. They have far greater meaning than their literal definition.

FAQs – Idiom vs Metaphor

Q: Can an idiom be a metaphor?

Yes, an idiom can be a metaphor. An idiom is a set phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning, as in “kick the bucket”. A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses an image to make a comparison, as in “he was the apple of her eye”. So an idiom is a type of figurative language that can be a metaphor.

Q: Why are all metaphors not idioms?

Not all idioms are metaphors. Metaphors compare two similar things indirectly. Although both idioms and metaphors are very similar, they are NOT the same thing. Therefore, not all metaphors are idioms.

Q: What is an example of an idiom and a metaphor?

An example of an idiom is “raining cats and dogs.” This means it’s raining very hard. An example of a metaphor is “time is a thief.” This means time flies by quickly.

Q: What is the difference between a idiom and a metaphor?

Idioms are expressions that have a specific figurative meaning, which is usually different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, “kick the bucket” doesn’t mean to actually kick a bucket; it means to die. Metaphors, on the other hand, are comparisons between two objects or ideas, where one is used to represent the other.

Q: What is an example of an idiom?

An example of a popular idiom is “raining cats and dogs”. This means it’s raining very hard. There are so many idioms that are commonly used in conversation.

Q: What is the difference between a simile and an idiom?

A simile is a figure of speech that uses the words “like” or “as” to compare two things. An idiom, on the other hand, is a phrase that means something other than the actual individual words. For example, the idiom “I’m busting my but” doesn’t actually mean your but is busting; it means you’re working hard.

Q: Is an idiom an analogy?

No, an idiom is not an analogy or allegory. An idiom is a phrase that has a figurative meaning independent of its parts. For example, the idiom “it’s raining cats and dogs” doesn’t mean that actual cats and dogs are falling from the sky. Instead, it means that it’s raining very hard. Analogies, on the other hand, are comparisons between two things that are similar in some respects but different in others. These two terms are commonly confused in the English language.

The Bottom Line

People often get confused when comparing idiom vs metaphor. These two terms are very similar but have different meanings. Now that you know the difference, use these two types of speech to take your writing to the next level. However, you should use this type of speech sparingly. Idioms & metaphors can be confusing to some people, especially when translating to other languages!