A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses an image, a story or a tangible example to express a quality or qualities possessed by a person or thing, or to represent a less tangible thing; e.g. Her face shone like the sun. With this broad definition, the metaphor subsumes within itself a number of other figures of speech: metonymy, synecdoche, synonym, catachresis, parable, etc. All conform to the basic framework of a figure of speech that achieves its objective by comparison, association or representation.

Let us analyse a metaphorical statement:

The school was a prison for him.

What does this mean? It obviously does not mean that the school was literally a prison, for that is ludicrous. It is immediately comprehensible, however, that the school shares certain characteristics with prisons. It is probable that the person referred to as ‘him’ feels locked up in school, as prisoners do in prison. The meanings of metaphors, while sometimes simple, are best understood in context.

Here are some famous metaphors. See if you can figure out their meanings.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.
William Shakespeare

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Pablo Picasso

All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.
Khalil Gibran

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust