October 21, 2020

How to Use Metaphor in Your Speech or Writing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The English language has become the world’s number one language of politics, diplomacy, sport, show business, commerce and industry.

It is therefore imperative for each one of us living in any part of the world to learn to use metaphor effectively in this international lingua franca.

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From the Rwandan student in a small town in francophone Africa to the Paraguayan solopreneur or career professional from Latin America, all peoples of the world today have seen the need for developing the ability to effectively communicate in English in order to get the results in this ever- shrinking global village.

One of the many ways to develop your ability for effective communication in English is to learn and master the use metaphorical expressions found in the language.

To help you learn to use metaphor effectively, I have assembled here some of the regularly used metaphors in the English language.

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I strongly advise you to add these examples of the effective use of metaphor to your stock of knowledge in this area.

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Nothing should stop you from learning at least one new metaphor every day. You can also personally create lots of metaphorical expressions.

For those of us who are foreign or second language speakers of English , this remains one of the best ways to learn to use English effectively in our daily activities.

1. Express anger by comparing it to fire or intense heat

  •  She burned with indignation
  •  He has a fiery temper.
  • Sackey was a hot – tempered young man.
  •  They were having a heated argument/debate about everything.
  •  She often flares up over nothing.
  • It made my blood boil
  • I lost my cool and gave him a hefty blow in the rib
  •  Shola was getting very hot under the collar
  • When I told him, he nearly exploded.
  • He blew up at her
  • George couldn’t contain his anger any longer.
  • It was an explosive situation
  • I’m sorry I blew my top
  •  There was another angry outburst from Chris.
  • Alex was bursting with anger
  •  She’ll blow a fuse if she finds out.
  • Bob went ballistic when he saw what Adwoa had done.
  • A major row erupted at the meeting.

2. Speak or write about an argument by comparing it to a fight

  • Betty tried to defend herself against his attacks on her ideas
  •  She shot down his argument
  • That is an indefensible point of view
  •  I decided to pursue another line of attack.
  • We had a big fight last night so I went home early.
  • They clashed over who to appoint
  • It was a real battle of wits.
  •  We did battle with them before
  • Felicia is always the first to leap to her sister’s defence

3. Write or speak about being busy at work as if it were the same as being covered with things.

  • They keep pilling more work on me.
  •  I’m drowning in paper work.
  • I’m up to my eyes/ears/eyeballs,/neck in work
  • I have got a lot of work to wade through
  •  I’m snowed under with work.
  • He doesn’t have time to turn around.
  • We’re absolutely swamped at the moment
  •  We’ve been inundated with phone calls.
  • She buried/immersed herself in her work

 4. A conversation or a discussion is like a journey or moving from one place to another.

  •  Shall we go back to what you were saying earlier?
  • Can we return to the previous point?
  • I can’t quite see where you’re heading
  • The conversation took an unexpected turn/direction
  •  I’m listening – go on.
  •  We’ve covered a lot of ground in the discussion about the media
  • I was just coming to that.
  • We eventually arrived at a conclusion.
  • It’s a roundabout way of saying she’s refusing your offer
  •  You’re on the right/wrong track
  •  We wandered off the topic and strayed into the realm of politics
  • The conversation drifted rather aimlessly
  •  We kept going round and round in circles

5. To criticize someone is usually compared to the act of hitting them.

  • She hit out angrily at the judge’s decision.
  • He lashed out at me, accusing me of not caring.
  • The headmistress tore me to pieces/shreds
  •  He trapped me over the knuckles about it.
  •  They were gunning for me
  •   You need not beat yourself up over this.
  •   Don’t knock what you don’t understand.
  •  There’s no need to jump down my throat.

6. To make an effort is like using a part of the body.

  • Has Ernest got the backbone to stand up to them? Or will he just give in?
  •  You have to put your back into it.
  • They only succeeded by using their political muscle.
  •  Put a bit more elbow grease into it.
  • My heart’s not really in it.
  • I had to sweat my guts out to get it done in time.
  • We must all put our shoulders to the wheel
  •  Just try to put your best foot forward now.
  •  I’ve been keeping my nose to the grindstone.
  •  He was the kind of boss who likes to get his hands dirty

I urge you to read these metaphors lots of times and use them as often as possible. And, never forget, learning how to use metaphor in your speech or writing will make you sound fluent to your audience.

Adapted from the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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