What is an analogy?

An analogy is a comparison made to show how two things are similar for explanation or clarification. Although the things compared are physically different, the analogy identifies how they are figuratively similar.

Think of analogies as an extension of a metaphor or simile.

People make use of analogies to link unfamiliar ideas with common ones, making complex or abstract ideas easier to understand.

What is an analogy

Analogy examples

It is common to use analogies to make comparisons in the English language. The following is an example analogy comparing a warrior's sword to a writer's pen:

Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.

A warrior uses his sword as a weapon, while a writer's weapon are their words written with their pen.

In the next example, the analogy is comparing a book to a rollercoaster:

That book was a roller coaster of emotion.

The plot of the book had many emotional highs and lows, making it feel like you rode the ups and downs of a roller coaster.

Analogy examples in literature

Analogies are commonly used in literature. A famous example can be found in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, / by any other word would smell as sweet. / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called.”

Analogy examples from Romeo and Juliet

This analogy is saying a rose would smell the same even if it were called something different; therefore, Romeo's name does not define him.

Another example from literature is found in George Orwell's Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

In Orwell's analogy, the pigs have become that which they fought against (man).

The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen contains this analogy:

“Memory is to love what the sauce’r is to cup.”

Like a saucer holds a cup, a memory holds onto love.

Analogy in poetry

Examples of analogy in poems
Poem Analogy Explanation
"There is no frigate like a book" by Emily Dickinson "There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away, / Nor any coursers like a page / Of prancing poetry. / This traverse may the poorest take / Without oppress of toll; / How frugal is the chariot / That bears a human soul!" A book, like a warship, has immense power.
"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost "Nature's first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf's a flower; / But only so an hour. / Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay." As the seasons change, so too does life.
"Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas "Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight / Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, / Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Fight against death ("the dying of the light").

Types of analogies

An analogy can be both a literary device and a rhetorical device, depending upon its use.

As a rhetorical device, word analogies are often found on standardized tests. This assesses the test taker's ability to identify various relationships.

When writing a word analogy as a rhetorical device, colons stand in for words. Analogies written in this way use pairs of words to make a logical argument. Consider the following example:

  • Stove is to kitchen as bed is to bedroom
  • Stove : kitchen :: bed : bedroom

How to write an analogy

There are a variety of types of rhetorical verbal analogies that identify different kinds of relationships:

List of analogy types
Analogy type Example
Part to whole New York City : New York :: California : United States
Cause to effect Rain : flood :: fire : smoke
Source to product Wood : paper :: water : ice
Object to purpose Keyboard : type :: pencil : writing
Characteristic Leaf : tree :: petal : flower
General to specific Car : Honda :: country : Canada
User to tool Builder : hammer :: writer : pen
Synonyms Mad : angry :: happy : joyful
Antonyms Up : down :: left : right

Analogy vs. metaphor vs. simile

A metaphor is a figure of speech used to compare or suggest a similarity between two items, whereas a simile is a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as." While metaphors and similes help writers show instead of tell, an analogy provides explanation or clarification.

Consider the following example comparing thoughts to a storm:

  • Metaphor: His thoughts were a storm.
  • Simile: His thoughts were like a storm.
  • Analogy: His thoughts were like a storm causing chaos.

Writers can use metaphors and similes to create analogies; however, not all metaphors and similes are analogies.

Analogy vs. metaphor and simile

Analogical arguments

Analogical reasoning is any thinking that involves an analogy. It compares something new with something known. Argument by analogy is a way to inform, persuade, or explain, such as in the following examples:

  • The new movie is supposed to be similar to the one that came out last summer, so it too is probably dull.
  • Not everyone had a computer in their homes 20 years ago, but most of them do now; therefore, one can expect the same of virtual reality.
  • The new planet is the same distance from its star as the Earth is from the sun, meaning it could support life.

What you learned:

After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:

  • What is an anaolgy and its uses
  • Different types of analogies
  • Examples of analogies in literature and poetry
  • How analogies compare to metaphors and similes
  • Analogical arguments
Instructor: Malcolm M.
Malcolm has a Master's Degree in education and holds four teaching certificates. He has been a public school teacher for 27 years, including 15 years as a mathematics teacher.

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