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Difference Between Metaphor and Metonymy

english_vocabularyMetaphor vs Metonymy

Metaphor and metonymy are similar in various aspects but the major difference is that if a metaphor substitutes a concept with another, a metonymy selects a related term. So, if metaphor is for substitution, metonymy is for association. For example, the sentence ‘he is a tiger in class’ is a metaphor. Here the word tiger is used in substitution for displaying an attribute of character of the person. The sentence ‘the tiger called his students to the meeting room’ is a metonymy. Here there is no substitution; instead the person is associated with a tiger for his nature.

So metonymy is a figure of speech. It is used in rhetoric where a thing is not referred by its name but with the associated word. A metaphor is an expression. This expression shows the similarity between two things on some aspects. In metonymy, the association of the word is based on contiguity, while in a metaphor; the substitution is based on similarity. If metaphor can be used to define the transference of relation between set of things to another, metonymy is used to define a word. Metonymy uses a single characteristic for the identification of a complex entity.

Another difference between metaphor and metonymy is that a metaphor acts by suppressing an idea while metonymy acts by combining ideas. But both metaphor and metonymy are used to express ideas which are greatly different from the original meaning in the psychic realm. When a person uses a metonymy, the qualities are not transferred from the original word to the metonymy. But in metaphor, when there is a comparison, the comparison is based on the qualities and some qualities are transferred from the original to the metaphor, in the process.

Metaphor is an extension to a word’s meaning on the account of similarity and metonymy is a way of extending the meaning of a word based on its association to another. Metaphor can be used to refer to a word in an object category to make it in the abstract semantic category. Metonymy can be used in informal or insulting situations as well. For example, the association of brain to a person means he is intelligent, and asshole is a metonymy for an idiotic person in an insulting manner.

So we can say that if metaphor is used for substitution and condensation, a metonymy is used for combination and displacement.


1.Metaphor is used for substitution, while metonymy is used for association.
2.Metaphor can mean condensation and metonymy can mean displacement.
3.A metonymy acts by combining ideas while metaphor acts by suppressing ideas.
4.In a metaphor, the comparison is based on the similarities, while in metonymy the comparison is based on contiguity.

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  1. Perhaps the logic of this above post defining the difference between metaphor and metonymy is correct, but it doesn’t really help explain the difference in practical and understandable ways.

    Metaphor, literally, means “this for that.” Or, replacing this word for that word. That’s it! Skillful metaphors, however, create a strange and bizarre relationship between two words, transforming set boundaries of language and meaning. Metonymy is where you replace a word for another word too, but often the two words are associated in some fundamental way. Like the “the Crown issued an edict against such and such.” The “crown” stands in for the king; king’s are known to wear crowns. Or, “the sails crossed the ocean.” The “sails” stand in for boat; sails are often found on boats. With metonymy, the part stands for the whole. Think of a zoomed in close-up of something.

    And so, metaphor and metonymy are similar, only it seems metaphor stretches the established associations of words. “The ship ploughed the sea.” There is nothing readily similar about ships at sea and ploughing or tilling a field, at least not at first blush. But when you really think about it, the act of tilling a field does bring to mind, say, a barreling or cutting through a force of nature with human innovation. Or, notice how both bump up and down as they move through the sea/earth.

    You might say, a metaphor is more abstract than metonymy. It makes you think harder than usual — at least the good ones do.


  1. Difference Between Metaphor and Simile | Difference Between | Metaphor vs Simile

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