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Metaphor vs. Abstract: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 3, 2023
Metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, while abstract pertains to concepts not physically tangible.

Key Differences

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unrelated subjects, suggesting they are alike in a significant way. Abstract, in contrast, refers to ideas or concepts that are not concrete or tangible. While metaphors are used to illuminate an idea by comparison, abstract concepts challenge the reader or viewer to find meaning without direct representation.
Metaphors are integral to language, providing vivid imagery or new perspectives by connecting disparate ideas, like "time is a thief." Abstract concepts, however, are essential in philosophy, art, and thinking, representing ideas without physical form, like "justice" or "freedom."
A metaphor enlivens text by linking a known concept to an unknown to enhance understanding, e.g., "Her voice was music to his ears." Abstract terms, on the other hand, often require contemplation and subjective interpretation, as they do not relate to sensory experiences directly.
The power of a metaphor lies in its ability to convey complex feelings or ideas simply and memorably, as in "the heart of the matter." Abstract notions, conversely, can be ambiguous and open-ended, leaving interpretations up to individual insight.
In education, metaphors can be a pedagogical tool, simplifying complex ideas like "a cell is a city," whereas abstract thinking is developed as a higher-order cognitive skill, helping to grasp complex academic theories and constructs without relying on the concrete.

Comparison Chart


Figurative language equating two different things
Conceptual idea without physical existence


Literary and everyday language to create imagery
Theoretical discussions, philosophy, and the arts


Enhance understanding through comparison
Represent ideas without relying on the physical


Concrete imagery to describe abstract concepts
Non-concrete, often complex and not immediately graspable

Type of Thinking

Analogical and imaginative
Conceptual and theoretical

Metaphor and Abstract Definitions


Imagery Device.
Life is a rollercoaster.


Non-concrete Idea.
His thesis discussed the abstract concept of beauty.


Figurative Comparison.
The classroom was a zoo.


The discussion on ethics ventured into the realm of the abstract.


Literary Tool.
His mind was a sharp blade.


She read the abstract of the article.


Conceptual Bridge.
Her eyes were stars lighting up the room.


Abstract mathematics often deals with concepts beyond physical realities.


Rhetorical Figure.
Time is a currency.


Artistic Genre.
He preferred abstract art, like that of Kandinsky.


A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).


Considered apart from concrete existence
An abstract concept.


How does a metaphor differ from a simile?

A metaphor directly states that one thing is another, whereas a simile uses "like" or "as" to compare two things.

What is an example of a metaphor?

"The world is a stage" is a classic example, comparing life to a theatrical play.

Why do writers use metaphors?

Writers use metaphors to add creativity, make their writing more vivid, and convey complex ideas more effectively.

Can metaphors be mixed?

Yes, but mixed metaphors (combining different metaphors) can be confusing or unintentionally humorous.

Are metaphors only used in literature?

No, metaphors are used in various forms of communication, including everyday conversation, speeches, and advertising.

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, suggesting a resemblance.

Can metaphors be found in everyday language?

Yes, metaphors are common in everyday language, often without us noticing, such as saying "time is money."

Is it possible to create original metaphors?

Yes, original metaphors can be very powerful, but they require creative thinking.

How is "abstract" used in art?

In art, "abstract" describes works that do not attempt to represent recognizable reality but use shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks to achieve their effect.

How do metaphors affect the reader?

They can enhance understanding, create vivid imagery, and evoke emotions.

Can an abstract concept be easily visualized?

No, abstract concepts typically cannot be directly visualized because they don't have physical characteristics.

What's the difference between abstract and concrete language?

Concrete language refers to things that can be perceived with the senses, whereas abstract language signifies concepts or ideas.

Why are abstract words important?

Abstract words are important because they help us to express complex ideas, emotions, and thoughts.

How does one understand abstract concepts?

Understanding abstract concepts often requires thinking beyond the physical and considering the symbolic or greater significance of ideas.

Are emotions considered abstract?

Yes, emotions are considered abstract because they are feelings that cannot be directly observed or measured.

Can a word be both abstract and concrete?

Some words can have both abstract and concrete meanings, depending on context, like "light" can mean illumination (concrete) or not heavy (abstract).

Can metaphors be visual as well as verbal?

Absolutely, visual metaphors use images to convey a conceptual analogy.

What does "abstract" mean in language?

In language, "abstract" refers to words or phrases that denote ideas, qualities, or conditions that are not concrete or tangible.

What is an example of an abstract noun?

"Freedom" is an abstract noun; it represents an idea rather than a physical object.

How are abstract terms useful in academic writing?

Abstract terms are useful in academic writing for discussing theories, hypotheses, and intellectual concepts that are not tied to physical entities.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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