Understanding Metaphors


A metaphor, or commonly known as a figure of speech, is used as analogy of ideas and objects. It usually begins by transferring the same word into a

new sentence, the sense of which changes with the subject matter. By itself, the meaning of the word remains unchanged but it somehow transforms itself when used metaphorically.

Here are some examples:

1. The security guards are working around the clock during the elections.

2. This is a waste of time and money.

3. You can count me in. You can count me out.

4. She fought for him.

5. Are you out of your mind?

An Elaboration

From the above examples, are ‘transferred to other apparently unrelated contexts’ to give sense, amply and articulate the expression. Simply put, allow us to create fresh expressions without inventing any new words, because the meaning of these words like ‘fought (past tense of fight), in, out, time and clock’ have already been defined. The is analogous to Mandarin characters which cannot be changed by adding or subtracting strokes to modify tenses. The English word ‘want’ is present but ‘wanted’ is past by adding ‘ed’. In Mandarin 要 (‘yao’) can only mean ‘want’. To use 要 in the past tense, you need to add time words like, ‘昨天、’刚刚‘ for yesterday and just now respectively. The English words that are used in metaphors do not change in their meanings but the sense of which they are used will be modified.

1. The security personnels are working around the clock during the elections. (They are working the whole day during the election.)

2. This is a waste of . (Time is now a valuable piece of material that is tangible and can be perceived as concrete. “You will save time if you take the taxi home.”)

3. You can count me in. You can count me out. (You can include me in or out of what you are activity.)

4. She fought for him. (She loved him and therefore would stand by his side in times of his difficulties.)

5. Are you out of your mind? (Are you crazy? Are you sure of what you are doing?)

As you can see, using words in the right places where they don’t apparently belong help people to smartly articulate and express themselves in ways that allow them to become creative and innovative with languages.

How To Start Using Words As Metaphors?

You need to know only a few words to start using them as metaphors. When using metaphors, you have to keep the words in the context of their original definitions before you can transfer them out to be used in other metaphorical sentences. The reason is, people can only make logical connection to their original meaning. Only then can the new sentences be understood completely. “She is feeling down.” means “She is disappointed or sad.” Down is associated to a condition which is negative; it is the opposite of ‘up’.

Uses Of Metaphors

Metaphors make it easy for people from different cultures to connect with one another. If we discuss using only one language, we have to speak in simple basic sentences unless we have assessed each other’s language ability. When we start to use metaphors, we lead people to connect with us culturally and draw them closer towards our inner thoughts. We open ourselves to them.

A: “How are things with you?”

B: “It seems things are looking up, the first quarter report shows we have made some profits.”

“Looking up” is associated with a condition of positive, the opposite of negative.

Metaphors help people to revise, remember and recall words that are dormant in their vocabulary bank. It is good exercise to work with the same word because when used as a metaphor, the raw meaning of the word remains the same but the sense of which the word is used is modified. It makes memory work more fun

If you do not know how to use metaphors, it does not mean you are less fluent at the language.

You do not have to be disappointed because you didn’t know, “I am feeling down” means “I am sad or disappointed.” Like we have explained at the beginning, a metaphor is a word that is used to modify the sense in which the sentence is used, the meaning of which is modified but not changed.

Competency is the key to understanding metaphors, whereas fluency is a requirement to begin the works at understanding them. You can still be fluent in a language without knowing how to use metaphors at all.

1. The security personnels are working around the clock during the elections.

2. This is a waste of time and money.

3. You can count me in. You can count me out.

4. She fought for him.

Understanding Metaphors

6 thoughts on “Understanding Metaphors”

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