Metonymy Vs Metaphor (Key Differences & Examples)

In literature and language figurative style of expressions has great potential to make language more vivid, beautiful and meaningful. Among these figures of speech, two instances are the metonymy and the metaphor. They add value enabling the language with detailed imagery.

Definition of Metonymy

Metonymy is a kind of an order of speech in which a thing or concept is denoted through the naming of something closely linked to it. A metonymy does not, however, work by comparing things in a way that a metaphor does. On the other hand, it switches one naming for another that is closely related with each other which is often by replacing more abstract the concrete or the tangible. The incorporation of implied comparison in this rhetorical strategy allows the conveyance of a sense of relatedness or meaning between the two.

Definition of Metaphor

Metaphor is a figure of speech that compare two unlike things using “similar to” or “like”. It is a means by which an object or action may be expressed in such a manner that is not factually true, however, does a wonderful job of defining a concept and making a comparison. The metaphor does not only evoke a clear picture but also help in creating transition and explaining the abstract idea. Mental picture is enhanced by more details that the language can use. They form a link about two things that are not exactly alike or even look alike, trying to show that there is a connection that happens in the symbolic or conceptual level.

In literature, poem, music, and our daily speech, metaphors play a very important function of realizing the reality of thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a more embracing and resonant way. They frequently lead readers think in a deeper way to the connections and generally make an imprint that lasts for a long time.

Metonymy vs Metaphor

Basic DefinitionSubstitution of a word with a closely related conceptDirect comparison between two unlike things
Link Between TermsConcrete or tangible connectionConceptual similarity or symbolic connection
PurposeTo directly substitute terms without comparisonTo draw an imaginative comparison
Example“The White House issued a statement.” (referring to the U.S. President or administration)“Time is a thief.” (Equating time with a thief to imply it steals moments)

Examples of Metonymy in literature


The Aeneid by Virgil (Translated by John Dryden) 

“The marble spoke; the hollow caves and mansions muttered back.”  

Here, the author uses “and the marble” to represent statues and sculptures made of marble. The poet manifests these lifeless things such that they speak and the void caves were the direct reply. This metonymy shifts the narrative to the enigmatic and supernatural sphere through stereotypical expressions.


“The Hand That Signed the Paper” by Dylan Thomas

“The hand that signed the paper felled a city; Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath, Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country; These five kings did a king to death.”

The hand refers to no other than the face or people with authority who set his signature to the document. The individual’s hand is not showing his power or influence but his varying influence on the world around, emphasizing the extent of that impact. This metonymy draws attention to the fact that sometimes one particular signature can lead to the most terrible results, which include the destruction of the whole city, throwing people’s lives into chaos, and even killing the King himself.


Genesis (The Bible, New King James Version)

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”

In this biblical verse, “scepter” and “lawgiver” are metonyms which display the kingship and the power. Sceptre, the emblem of monarchic might denotes the rulers’ power, meanwhile the figurine of a lawgiver depicts the superior’s legislative role. The prophecy lists the prevalence of Judah as king until the advent of Shiloh, a messiah who is generally thought to be the promised one. This metonym makes the prophecy more vivid and strengthens a feature of the everlasting nature of the golden scepter – that it is Judah which it represents. 

Examples of Metaphor in literature


“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

“The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.”

In this metaphor from William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, the sunset is just like the blazing of a dying gold. The simile here provides a precise portrait of the sun with its bright, raging look as it gets close to the horizon, where it is compared to the edge, or “sill,” of the earth. The metaphor is just perfect in the poem as it depicts the beauty and greatness of the evening and simultaneously refers to the idea of the sun’s disappearing and blackening night.


“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”  

In the well-known monologue, life is metaphorically portrayed as both a ‘walking shadow’ and a ‘poor player.’ Since the comparison to a shadow depict shiftiness and insubstantiality, the analogy to a poor actor is meant to provoke the idea that anything humans do in life is a mere play in the big picture of humanity. 


 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

“The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.”

L.M. Montgomery makes a metaphorical turn when she likens the road to “ribbon of moonlight.” This compare heightens the beauty of the scene filled with a long, silver path shining in the soft glow of the moon while unrolling through the purple heath. In using the metaphor the poet denotes the spirit of allure and enigma, implying that the journey is a magical pathway laden with yet-hidden discoveries. Montgomery draws our attention to ribbon’s fragile and gracious appearance, thereby meliorating the overall dreamlike nature of the description.

Importance of Metonymy

The metonymy is an important literary device which is almost always applied in the literary works and everyday speech. Here are some key reasons why metonymy is important :

Conciseness: The device of metonymy serves writers to put over deep meanings with not many words by using just a word or phrase which stand to denote a broad idea. This shortness of the writing can involve it into the listener’s mind more powerfully and hence it will become unforgettable.

Establishing Connections: Metonymy serves as a bridge in establishing relations between related concepts, thus allowing readers to cross the gap of understanding and interpret according to their own associations in thinking.

Enhancing Imagery: Metonymy is capable to call up mental images through vicious iterations on the certain symbolic associations. When a writer goes for a metonym, they are actually giving a clear picture to the reader. This may improve the reader’s engagement, bringing them in the story and making them part and parcel of the story’s development.

Conveying Tone and Emotion: The author knows the power of metaphor and uses it to express the atmosphere and bring the reader’s emotions specific to each character. Meanwhile, if one calls “the crown” by the royal family a personification of formality and power might be subtly expressed.

Reflecting Cultural Understanding: Anthropology may often be completely built on common cultural knowledge and experience of receivers. Thus, writers can utilize the concept of familiar metonyms whereby their readers will relate and forge some bond with listeners.

Importance of Metaphor

Metaphor is an indispensable part of the closed system that language is. Thus, the literature is very much enriched and the communication reaches the deeper level through metaphor. Here are some key reasons why metaphor is important:

Enhancing Understanding: Metaphors enable readers to visualize the relationship between two seemingly unrelated concepts, which is sometimes difficult to grasp, by simply describing them both in a way which is more familiar to his or her experience. A metaphor works by holding two different ideas that have nothing in common to compare them and help enlighten the readers into taking understanding of the issues at hand.

Creating Vivid Imagery: Metaphor brings a visual message for the reader, which can force the reader to see the described subject differently. Metaphors often build imagery and create a direct relation between the reader’s senses to the writer’s description, arranging the work of art to be storing in the mind of the reader and delivering a pervasive impact.

Conveying Emotion: Thus, there is a great number of ways that metaphors can be used so as not to just seem like wordplay, but also a tool that taps directly into readers’ experiences and associations. Using mundane things such as an object, a setting, or a situation as concrete metaphors, the writers can somehow lead readers to feel that emotion in a more profound way.

Encouraging Reflection: Readers often go deep within themselves guided by images of something and trying to make out its sense. Through showing the contrast that does not immediately strike the mind, metaphors are arguably able to compel readers to observe the similarities and the dissimilarities of the things which are being compared thus leading to the most appropriate understanding of the entire text.

Enhancing Persuasion: The metaphor enables a writer to use a new approach to the audience and thus does his or her best to bring the subject to light. Writers showcase their capabilities for convincing with supporting evidence when they discuss a topic by creating analogies between that topic and something that readers trust or enjoy especially.

Metonymy vs Metaphor
Metonymy vs Metaphor

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