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Metaphrase vs. Paraphrase: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 2, 2023
Metaphrase is word-for-word translation, while paraphrase restates text meaning in different words.

Key Differences

Metaphrase involves translating text word-for-word from one language to another, attempting to preserve the original meaning and structure as closely as possible. It's a literal translation approach, often without concern for the flow or idiom of the target language. Paraphrase, on the other hand, involves rewording and rephrasing text while retaining the original meaning, often to clarify or simplify the source material.
When metaphrasing, the translator’s aim is to be as exact as possible, sometimes at the cost of readability. With paraphrase, the aim is to make the material more understandable or engaging to the reader, even if it means moving away from the exact words of the original text. Metaphrasing is often used in legal or scholarly contexts, where precision is paramount; paraphrasing is more common in everyday language where comprehension is the goal.
Metaphrase might not capture cultural nuances or idiomatic expressions well since it doesn't allow for interpretive flexibility. Paraphrase, while providing a more accessible version of the text, can sometimes introduce the paraphraser’s bias or interpretation, potentially changing subtle nuances in the message.
In terms of application, metaphrase is essential in situations where the exact wording is important, such as legal documents or religious texts, to maintain the integrity of the original. Paraphrasing is more suited to teaching, summarizing, or explaining texts, where the essence of the message is more important than the specific wording.
In summary, while metaphrase is a tool for translators requiring fidelity to the source, paraphrase is a tool for communicators needing to adapt the source material for different audiences or purposes.

Comparison Chart


Literal, word-for-word translation
Restatement of text with altered wording


Exactitude and precision
Clarity and understanding


Original text structure and meaning
Reader comprehension and accessibility


Low, adheres closely to source
High, adapts for the target audience

Common Usage

Scholarly, legal, technical translation
Summarizing, teaching, explaining

Metaphrase and Paraphrase Definitions


Transposition of words from one language to another without change.
His metaphrase of the French poem preserved its original meter.


Restating text with different words to achieve greater clarity.
She paraphrased the complex theory to make it understandable for students.


A translation that mirrors the exact language of the original.
For the linguist, the metaphrase was a key to understanding the text's true meaning.


The act of expressing the meaning of something using different words.
Her paraphrase of the Shakespearean dialogue made it accessible to young readers.


A literal word-for-word translation of a text.
The ancient text required a metaphrase to ensure historical accuracy.


A rewording of something written or spoken by someone else.
He paraphrased the instructions for clarity without altering the meaning.


A direct translation that follows the original closely.
Scholars often prefer a metaphrase when studying classical languages.


An interpretive restatement of a written work.
In his essay, he paraphrased the poem without losing the poet's original intent.


A precise, sometimes technical, rendition of the source language.
The metaphrase of the legal document left no room for ambiguity.


A rendition that conveys the essence but with altered phrasing.
The paraphrase of the technical manual was shorter and simpler to read.


A word-for-word translation.


A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning.


To translate, especially literally.


The restatement of texts in other words as a studying or teaching device.


What is metaphrase?

Metaphrase is a word-for-word translation from one language to another.

Can metaphrase change the text’s meaning?

Ideally, metaphrase should not change the meaning, although nuances may be lost.

When should you use metaphrase?

Use metaphrase when precision of the original language is crucial, such as in legal texts.

Is paraphrasing a form of interpretation?

Yes, paraphrasing can introduce the paraphraser's understanding or perspective.

What does paraphrase mean?

Paraphrase means to restate text in different words, often to simplify or clarify.

When is paraphrasing appropriate?

Paraphrasing is appropriate when you want to clarify or simplify the original text.

How does paraphrase differ from summarizing?

Paraphrasing rewords the text fully, while summarizing shortens it, keeping main points.

Does metaphrase require knowledge of both languages?

Yes, in-depth knowledge of both the source and target languages is essential.

What tools are used for metaphrasing?

Dictionaries and language databases are key tools for metaphrasers.

Can paraphrasing be too interpretive?

Yes, excessive interpretation in paraphrasing can sometimes lead to a change in meaning.

How to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing?

Always credit the original source and ensure your wording is sufficiently distinct.

Is there a risk of losing content in metaphrase?

The main risk is losing the flow and cultural context, not the content itself.

Are metaphrases commonly used?

Metaphrases are less common in everyday language but used in specialized fields.

Is metaphrase useful in literature?

It's useful for literal translations but may not convey literary nuances well.

Is paraphrasing easier than metaphrasing?

It depends on the context; paraphrasing requires a good grasp of meaning and rewording skills.

Is metaphrase always accurate?

While it strives for accuracy, metaphrase may miss idiomatic or cultural expressions.

Do translators do both metaphrase and paraphrase?

Yes, translators may use both methods depending on the translation’s purpose.

Can paraphrase be used in academic writing?

Yes, if properly cited to avoid plagiarism.

How do you teach paraphrasing skills?

Teaching paraphrasing involves lessons in vocabulary, sentence structure, and summarizing.

Are there software programs for paraphrasing?

Yes, there are many programs and online tools that can assist with paraphrasing.
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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