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Allusion, figure of speech, idiom, metaphor, or simile?

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I realized I wasn't sure what differentiated allusions, figures of speech, idioms, metaphors, and similes from each other. So today I did a little research. ^_^

(See list of definitions for each term at the bottom)

What is the difference between an allusion and a metaphor?

Metaphor refers one thing to something that it isn’t, invoking a direct similarity between things, while allusion is an indirect reference, like a hint. The reference is supposed to be understood by the audience, so the thing alluded to doesn't need to be explicitly mentioned. Source

How does a metaphor differ from an idiom?

Metaphors are tied to direct comparisons of things. Idioms have no direct/literal translations. Without having ever encountered the specific metaphor before, it is still usually possible to discern its meaning. However, that's generally not possible with an idiom.

Is it a simile or a metaphor?

A simile is a type of metaphor. When a metaphor initiates a comparison using the the words "like" or "as" it is a simile.

Words and their definitions:

Allusion A[n] direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, place, or work of art. Allusions can be historical, literary, religious, topical, or mythical. There are many more possibilities, and a work may simultaneously use multiple layers of allusion. Source

Figures of speech A figure of speech is a phrase or an expression that expresses an idea by using words in a nonliteral and imaginative way. Unlike an idiom, it is possible to understand a figure of speech even if you have never heard it before. Metaphors and similes are figures of speech.

Idioms An idiom is an expression that conveys something different from its literal meaning, and that cannot be guessed from the meanings of its individual words. “Between a rock and a hard place” is an idiom that means “in a difficult or bad position with no good way of getting out of it.” What makes an idiom different from a figure of speech is that its nonliteral meaning is already familiar to speakers of the language.

Metaphors A metaphor is a word or phrase typically used to describe one thing but unexpectedly used to describe something different. Metaphors make language interesting and help create imagery. They also make us aware of connections that we may not have thought of before. “He was drowning in paperwork” is a metaphor that makes a connection between having to deal with a lot of paperwork and drowning in water.

Similes (Tip: The final -e in simile is pronounced like –ee.) A simile is an expression that uses the words like or as to describe something by comparing it with something else. A simile is like a metaphor except that a simile uses the words like or as to signal that a comparison is being made. “She’s as fierce as a tiger” is a simile, but “She's a tiger when she's angry” is a metaphor. Source

Allusion, metaphor, and simile (among other things) are figures of speech, while idioms are not.

Meep! I just realized that I didn't include examples. Facepalm If you would like to give examples for each of these for those reading, that would be great. Thanks!

November 9, 2017



Simile: comparing two things with "like" or "as"

Metaphor: comparing two things without "like" or "as"

Allusion: a reference to something well-known, modern or ancient

Idiom & Figure of Speech: saying something in a non-literal way

Hope this is kinda accurate!


Thanks for engaging the topic! Have a lingot. ^_^

When I was researching, I found definitions like that, but, they weren't setting parameters between each concept. For instance,

Metaphor: comparing two things without "like" or "as"

Is technically incorrect, because metaphors include similes. Therefore, metaphors include comparisons with and without "like" or "as". The difference is that simile is a subset of metaphors and the subset is defined as containing "like" or "as". So, metaphors without those words are not similes.

Allusion: a reference to something well-known, modern or ancient

In this case, just any reference doesn't count as an allusion, it has to be indirect like a hint, rather than just any type of reference. (I realize the stock definition I pasted into the list of the OP" has an error. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!)

Idiom & Figure of Speech: saying something in a non-literal way

If an Idiom and figure of speech have the same definition, they are either synonyms or the definitions don't tell me how to determine which is which.

Because I was interested in the parameters, I went more in depth into my search. :)


So a metaphor is a type of comparison between two things, using any comparison words.


I don't yet know everything that is or isn't a metaphor. (I'd have to have a lot more experience with metaphors as a subject of study.) But, from what I gathered, the comparison has to have a direct similarity.


Metaphors tend to sound strange, as when they aren't similes they "claim" something IS something, or anything similar:

He is an ant.


Some metaphors definitely stand out. But many go completely unnoticed. When we say that people take time, cost time, kill time, spend time, waste time, etc. These are all metaphors. :)


Thanks Usagiboy7! Here is a follow! You are the best!


If I got this right, then:

Agile as a cat is a simile.
You’re one curious cat, aren’t you uses a metaphor.
Curiosity killed the cat is an idiom.
It’s raining cats and dogs is a figure of speech.
Anybody knows any good cat allusions?


A simile can also use "than" or "resembles"—really, any word that compares a thing to another, rather than saying something is another thing. Other than that, your explanations are neat. :)

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