Using Figurative Language – The Metaphor Page


A metaphor is a thing which is described in terms of other things:

In the words of William Blake:

“To see the world in a grain of sand”


“To see all things in one thing


To see one thing in terms of another.

This is the faculty of metaphor which is a feature of human thought, understanding and communication. It is a feature of human language.

How does a Metaphor Work?

Let’s look at the word launch in the phrase:

They launched a new product onto the market.

The original meaning of the verb “launch” is to put a rocket into the air or to put a ship into the sea.

Launching a Rocket

In the early 1960s the Russians launched the first manned rocket.

The pilot was Yuri Gagarin.


When was it launched?

Tell us in the comments section below.

Launching a Ship

The Titanic was launched in Belfast and it sank on its first voyage.


When did the Titanic sink?

Literal Meaning and Figurative Meaning

When we say we launch a rocket, we mean we put it into space and when we launch a ship, we put it into the sea.

We take the verb “launch” from that field of meaning (ships and rockets) and we use it in another area, as if a product was a ship or a rocket which going on a voyage. This meaning is figurative. We take the words from one situation (rockets, ships) and use them in another situation.

The product was launched last year.


When was the first Apple computer launched.
How often does Ford launch a new model?


A Field is an Area

Idioms and Metaphors

1. Links in a chain

Categories of Metaphors

We use categories of metaphors.

Can you identify metaphors in your own language and try to translate them? Write about metaphors in the “comments” section at the bottom of this page.

Some Common Metaphors in English

The use of “boiling point” as a metaphor

(link to banks and banking youtube video anchor!

I reached a boiling point!


“I became very angry”.

It is a metaphor. It refers to the boiling point of water.

When you say:

“I reached a boiling point”

you are saying:

“I reached a point where my anger became obvious and I was agitated.”

It is related to the idea of associating anger with heat and also to the idea of the human being a container for various emotions including anger.

The Use of “container” as a Metaphor

We say:

He was filled with remorse.

She was brimming with joy.

I felt empty

She was full of love and kindness.

I was busting to see him.

They were bursting with anticipation.

I was feeling washed out.

A container is washed out.

We see the world in dimensions. We relate to space. We carry this over as a metaphor. We see ourselves as containers of emotions. We see our bodies as containers of a soul and a heart. We see the heart as a container of feelings. This is how we speak and this is how we think. Often we do this unconsciously. If we analyse our behaviour and our speech, we see that this is how we understand things. We see things as containers.

Let’s sing a song about containers:

bottle glass decanter
cup mug teapot
bowl jug coffeepot

The Use of “landscape” as a Metaphor

A man was speaking on the radio. He was giving financial advice. He said:

“We are seeing a very brittle landscape out there.”

He meant that:

it was not easy to find a new job or a new contract or a new project.

He was talking about the slump in the financial industry.

Slump” is using the “body” as a metaphor.

The financial industry does not really have a body that can “slump” but that is how we talk: in metaphors.

The financial industry is not a landscape or a plastic model of a landscape that can be “plastic” or “brittle” but it is talked about in that way by people on the radio who give financial advice and financial news. This is how we think and communicate. These are the terms that we use.

Have you noticed this in your language?

What metaphors are widely used in your language?

The Use of “the feminine” as a Metaphor

We see the use of the idea of “the feminine” as a metaphor when we speak of things like ships and horses and large vehicles that need to be controlled though they often have a mind of their own and have to be regarded warily. You have to be aware of what you are dealing with.

Steady as she goes!

She is coming!

Here she comes!

Watch out for her!

This idea of the feminine as a dangerous and difficult phenomenon to be controlled is not the only view of the feminine which is commonly carried over in metaphor to describe other things. The English language also uses other views of “the feminine” such as beauty:

There she is!

She’s a real beauty!

She is a beauty all right!

What a beauty, she is!

Then we have a separate word to refer to the beauty of the male energy and its forms.

We speak of

a handsome man


a beautiful woman

Other Metaphors

a pillar of society
a raft of reforms
the last straw
the greenhouse effect
the main food bowl
the bread basket
its a jungle out there
a weak currency – a strong currency
a global economy
give him the reins

Metaphors of “the ship”

a leaking ship
a sinking ship
mutiny – Mutiny on the Bounty

take that on board
its all plane sailing ahead
it looks like stormy weather ahead
all aboard
all hands on deck
ship ahoy
hoist the jolly roger
the jolly roger may not be flying but …
raise the mainsail

Metaphors of the Military Parade Ground

do an about face


Note the use of “war vocabulary” to describe sport. Why do you think this is?



the blood letting did not cease
a crushing defeat
they were annihilated
All Blacks slay Wallabies


Note the use of impersonal electrical vocabulary to describe war: neutralize
Note the use of understatement: were rendered inoperative

The Use of Field as a Metaphor

further afield
another field

“champion” from French “champs” (field)

The Use of “Flood” as a Metaphor

Hip-hop lyric:

Sometimes it makes me wonder
how I keep from going under

stay afloat

I have to try and stay afloat however I can.

keep your head above water

Well, just try to keep your head above water and you should be ok.

the flood

a flood of refugees

the wave

a wave of new arrivals

The Use of “temperature” as a Metaphor

The Use of “up” and “down” as a Metaphor

The Significance of Metaphor

When we use a metaphor we travel from one world to the next. This transformation from one state to the next; this movement out of one state (ecstatic) into the next state is a journey which transcends the real world and takes place in the imaginary or imagined world.

The imaginary world is so immense and so close and so easily accessible and when we realise that just by thinking and speaking we can make this incredible journey, we experience wonder and awe.

This is why we find figurative language so beautiful.This is why we love poetry. We make the journey mentally from one experience to another through the miracle of language and thought and metaphor.

A Reference to Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick”

Whole universes are there, just a film away, a flimsy fabric, a paste board mask ……

The use of “revolution” as a Metaphor.

Those who do not allow peaceful revolution condemn the world to violent revolution.

John F. Kennedy

The Imagination

We can imagine things. We are capable of imagining things. Thoughts and ideas come into our minds. Where do they come from? How does the process work?

Are jokes and stories and images whispered to us by angels as we sleep, in order to guide us in our lives?

Do dreams have a meaning?

What do you think?

The Imagination Page

Using the imagination is an important step in the process of creation.

This page is always under construction. More links are always coming.

Tell us what you want. Come back for more.


The Quality of Awe and the Value of Inspiration

The Dimension Page
The Revolution Page
Passive Voice
The Translation Page
The Imagination Page

World English Course

There are lots of things you can learn in the World English Course. There is a place where you can talk about work and there is also a place where you can find a job and a place where you can find staff. There is a place where you can have fun and there is a place where you can talk about food or family. There is also a place where you can talk about money or love or philosophy. You can study anything you want anytime you want. You can do it once a week or every day or any time you like. Have fun! Work hard! Tell your friends and family members! Enjoy!

It is five to twelve – a time metaphor

Links to More Lessons on More Pages

The Work Page

Routine and Habit – The Routine Page

Verbs in Context in Many Tenses with Audio

Philosophy of Grammar and the Idea of Verbs as Actions

Verbs and Tenses – The Tense Page

Present Participle or Gerund or “ing” Form

Verbal Phrases 1 (with Audio)

Verbal Phrases 2 (with Audio)

Verbal Phrases 3 (with Audio)

Verbal phrases 4 (with Audio)
Verbal Phrases 5 (with Audio)

Verbal Phrases 6 (with Audio)

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