Implied Metaphor — Definition, Purpose, & Examples

Daniel Bal
Written by
Daniel Bal
Edited by
Courtney Adamo
Fact-checked by
Paul Mazzola

What is an implied metaphor?

An implied metaphor compares two, unlike things without identifying one of them. A direct metaphor has two parts; the tenor (the initial idea) and the vehicle (the idea being compared to), whereas an implied metaphor, does not contain the tenor.

Consider the following metaphors:

At his daughter's wedding, the father's tears were a river gently flowing down his cheeks.

  • Tenor: Tears

  • Vehicle: River

Above is an example of a direct metaphor because it identifies the direct comparison (tears to river).

At his daughter's wedding, a river gently flowed down the father's cheeks.

  • Tenor: None

  • Vehicle: River

Here the metaphor does not specify tears, making it an indirect metaphor.

Although the tears are not directly referenced in the second example, the context provides enough information to infer the implied comparison. Therefore, the second metaphor is implied.

Implied metaphor definition
Implied metaphor definition

Purpose of an implied metaphor

An implied metaphor is a type of metaphor that creates vivid imagery and adds another layer of meaning.

  • Vivid imagery – Powerful imagery attracts the interest of the reader and makes the content realistic and memorable.

  • Ambiguous meaning – The metaphor is then open to interpretation, allowing for a variety of meanings.

Get free estimates from english tutors near you.

Implied metaphor examples

Examples of implied metaphors used every day in the English language include comparing people to animals and nature, people to inanimate objects, and inanimate objects to animals and nature.

Implied metaphor example and structure
Implied metaphor example and structure

Comparing people to animals/nature:

  • The server went to fetch the food for the customers.

  • The host of the party hopped from table to table, trying to greet all of his guests.

Implied metaphor example comparing people to animals or nature
Implied metaphor example comparing people to animals or nature

Comparing people to inanimate objects

  • He never thought he'd be able to sail through that course so easily.

  • Sarah maintained her orbit around her friends, who were positive influences.

Comparing inanimate objects to animals/nature

  • In the winter, the air grows colder with each passing day.

  • The rock scampered across the water before sinking in its depths.

Examples of implied metaphors in poetry

Poets traditionally use figurative language, especially implied metaphors, to add depth to their work with fewer words.

A popular poetry example using this literary device can be found in this poem by Robert Frost.

"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire. / But if it had to perish twice, / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.

Frost implies a comparison between fire and human desire as well as ice and hatred. Through this juxtaposition, Frost suggests that human desire and hatred are equally destructive.

Implied metaphor examples in songs

"Can’t Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake:

I got that sunshine in my pocket / Got that good soul in my feet…

Timberlake implies a connection between the "sunshine in his pocket" and the happiness he feels when watching his significant other dance.

"Hotel California" by The Eagles:

Welcome to the Hotel California / Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place) / Such a lovely face / They livin’ it up at the Hotel California / What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise).

The Eagles use the Hotel California as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of fame without directly referencing the comparison to Hollywood.

Example of implied metaphor in literature

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Nale Hurston:

She could feel him and almost see him bucking around the room in the upper air. After a long time of passive happiness, she got up and opened the window and let Tea Cake leap forth and mount to the sky on a wind.

In describing Tea Cake, the protagonist's husband, she likens him to a deer by suggesting he is "bucking around the room." Hurston emphasizes the husband's lively nature through her use of implied metaphor.