A metaphor is a figure of speech using words or phrases that have no literal relationship with the subject matter. Some common metaphors you may have heard before include: the black sheep of the family; skeletons in the closet; skating on thin ice; low hanging fruit; a bad egg; a frog in your throat.

An easy way to identify metaphors is that they often seem absurd or unlikely if taken literally. If someone has difficulty speaking, there usually isn’t a frog in their throat. Most of the time, someone with a dubious past doesn’t actually have skeletons in their closet. There are very few occasions when people doing something risky or dangerous are literally skating on thin ice. 

Comparisons that use the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ are called similes. The difference? Similes state that one thing is like another whereas metaphors state one thing is another. 

Because they are symbolic, metaphors often allow writers to make connections or comparisons that are abstract, memorable and emotive. This is why the metaphors above have become cliched parts of everyday speech. When unpacking a metaphor, consider: whether the symbolism is positive or negative; what the writer is encouraging their audience to think or feel; and how the metaphor contributes to the writer’s overall argument.

Metaphor in action

Read the following article. Identify the issue, contention, audience and tone of the piece. Identify the persuasive techniques in the piece and explain the effect the are intended to have on the audience.

Click here to download the ‘Plastic: what a load of rubbish’ worksheet to help you analyse this article.