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Metaphor vs. Metonymy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on November 28, 2023
A metaphor is a figure of speech that implies a comparison between two unlike things, while metonymy replaces the name of a thing with something closely related to it.

Key Differences

Metaphor is a literary device that draws an implied comparison between two unrelated things, suggesting a similarity. Metonymy, however, involves substituting the name of one thing with the name of something else closely associated with it.
In a metaphor, one thing is said to be another to highlight a similarity, often using 'is' or 'are'. In contrast, metonymy replaces the name of a thing with that of another closely related item, like using 'the White House' to mean 'the President'.
Metaphor creates a direct relationship between two disparate things, often for poetic or illustrative effect. Metonymy, on the other hand, relies on the logical or associative connection between two related entities.
Metaphor is used to convey deeper meanings or to create vivid images in the reader's mind. Metonymy, however, is often employed for brevity or stylistic convenience, replacing longer descriptions with a concise term.
While metaphor often requires the reader to imagine a connection between two distinct items, metonymy draws upon existing, often widely recognized, associations between closely related subjects.

Comparison Chart

Nature of Comparison

Unrelated things
Closely related things


Implied comparison


"Life is a journey."
"The White House announced..."

Usage Purpose

Illustrative, poetic effect
Brevity, stylistic convenience

Reader's Inference

Requires imagination
Relies on known associations

Metaphor and Metonymy Definitions


A figure of speech comparing two unlike things.
Her laughter was music to his ears.


A figure of speech where one thing is represented by another that is commonly and sensibly associated with it.
The pen is mightier than the sword.


A tool for creating vivid imagery or expressing abstract concepts.
His words were a sharp sword.


Substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant.
The suits were at the meeting.


A literary technique for describing something by associating it with something else.
The world is a stage.


A form of semantic substitution in language.
Hollywood is producing more sequels.


An implied analogy or symbolic representation.
Time is a thief.


A rhetorical strategy used to describe something indirectly.
The Oval Office was busy with decisions.


A rhetorical device to represent one thing as another.
The classroom was a zoo.


A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.


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).


(rhetoric) The use of a single characteristic or part of an object, concept or phenomenon to identify the entire object, concept, phenomenon or a related object.


One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven" (Neal Gabler).


(countable) A metonym.


The use of a word or phrase to refer to something other than its literal meaning, invoking an implicit similarity between the thing described and what is denoted by the word or phrase.


A trope in which one word is put for another that suggests it; as, we say, a man keeps a good table instead of good provisions; we read Virgil, that is, his poems; a man has a warm heart, that is, warm affections; a city dweller has no wheels, that is, no automobile.


Substituting the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself (as in `they counted heads')


Using a linked term to stand in for an object or concept.
The track won first place.


Can metaphors be literal?

No, metaphors are not literal; they’re figurative or symbolic.

Is metonymy based on literal relationships?

Yes, metonymy is based on literal, logical, or associative relationships.

What is a metaphor?

A figure of speech that symbolically compares two unlike things.

How do metaphors enhance language?

Metaphors add depth and creativity, illustrating abstract ideas vividly.

What is metonymy?

A figure of speech that replaces the name of one thing with a related entity.

Why is metonymy used in language?

Metonymy is used for conciseness and stylistic effect.

Do metaphors and metonymy have the same effect?

No, they have different effects; metaphors evoke imagery, metonymy suggests direct associations.

Can metaphors be mixed?

Yes, but mixed metaphors can be confusing or humorous.

Can a metaphor be a single word?

Usually, metaphors are phrases or sentences, not single words.

Is metonymy always obvious?

Metonymy can be subtle, relying on the reader's knowledge of associations.

How do metaphors influence thought?

Metaphors can shape how we perceive and think about concepts.

Can a phrase be both metaphor and metonymy?

Rarely, as they operate on different principles of association.

Can metonymy be used in poetry?

Yes, metonymy is often used in poetry for its concise expression.

How do children learn metaphors?

Through exposure and gradually understanding figurative language.

Is metonymy common in everyday speech?

Yes, it's common in idiomatic expressions and casual conversation.

Are metonyms always culturally universal?

No, metonyms can vary based on cultural or contextual knowledge.

Are metonyms easy to translate in other languages?

Translation can be challenging if the associative logic differs culturally.

Is it possible for a metaphor to become a cliché?

Yes, overused metaphors can become clichés.

Can metaphors be visual?

Yes, metaphors can be conveyed through visual art as well as language.

Do metonyms change over time?

Yes, as associations and cultural references evolve, so do metonyms.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited 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.

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