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Analogy

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English

Analogy is like a jetpack. It boosts writing by explaining similarities and helping us to make a point.

Yes, that's an analogy about analogy. Whether it's in an English exam or in an everyday conversation, analogy is a powerful tool in communication. It compares two things, like simile and metaphor, but uses the comparison to make a larger point. It can help us understand complicated topics, enhance descriptions, and make arguments more convincing.

How do we define analogy?

If you look up the word "analogy" in the dictionary, you'll see a definition like this:

Analogy is a comparison that explains the relationship between two similar things.

This defines analogy generally, but let's look more closely into it. Analogy helps to explain a complicated idea. It does that by comparing it to something that's easier to understand.

If you tried to explain the immune system to someone who had never heard of it, they might get lost in all the terms. If you compared it to something else, though – like a castle with walls and soldiers to defend against attacks – your explanation could get through to them more easily. That's the function of analogy!

Types of analogy

There are two main types of analogy used in writing: figurative analogy and literal analogy.

Analogy Figurative Thinking StudySmarterFigurative Thinking, Gerd Altmann, pixabay.com

Figurative analogy

Figurative analogy compares things that aren't really similar, but have something specific in common. The function of figurative analogy is to enhance a description or illustrate a point. This is also the kind of analogy you would use in songs or poetry.

"I'm like a magnet, you're like a piece of wood,

Can't get together, don't make me feel so good"

This line from the song "Magnet" (1972) by NRBQ uses figurative analogy to explain its imagery. The singer and his crush aren't really similar to a magnet and wood. The way the lyric compares them shows how the singer can't attract his crush, the same way a magnet can't attract wood.

Literal analogy

Literal analogy compares things that are truly similar. This kind of analogy can help an argument by explaining real similarities.

A human's arms are like a bat's wings. They're made up of the same type of bones.

This literal analogy makes a comparison between human arms and bat wings, and then supports it by explaining why the two are similar.

Formal logic and mathematics define analogy more specifically. In those areas, analogy compares the relationship between two things by saying "a is to b as x is to y". A logical analogy would be "stripes are to a tiger as spots are to a cheetah", or "heart is to a human as engine is to a car".

Analogies in writing can follow the same rule. Take the analogy example from the NRBQ song above: "I'm like a magnet, you're like a piece of wood" can also be written as "I am to you as magnet is to wood".

The definitions might be slightly different, but logic and English persuasive writing use analogy for the same purpose: to explain the relationship between two similar things.

What's the difference between a simile, a metaphor, and an analogy?

It's very easy to mix up analogy with two other kinds of comparison: simile and metaphor. Don't feel bad if you struggle to tell them apart. They're really similar! Here are the basic differences:

  • Simile says one thing is like another.
  • Metaphor says one thing is another.
  • Analogy explains how one thing is like another.

Let's take a closer look at all three of these with some example sentences.

Simile examples

A simile compares two things by using the words "like" or "as". The word "simile" actually comes from the Latin word similis, which means "like". The word "similar" also shares the same root. Take a look at these example sentences.

You can use this to remember what a simile is! A simil-e says two things are simil-ar to each other.

  • The stale bread was like a brick.
  • Her eyes were as bright as the stars.

Unlike analogies, these simile examples don't go into why those comparisons make sense. What made the bread like a brick? How did her eyes look so bright? The simile doesn't help explain the things it's comparing. It just compares them to add imagery and poetic flair.

Metaphor examples

A metaphor compares two things by referring to one thing as another. The word "metaphor" comes from the Greek word metaphora, which means "transfer". The metaphor "transfers" the meaning of one thing to another.

  • The eyes are the windows to the soul.
  • "He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge." (A Christmas Carol, Stave 1)

The poetic metaphors in these example sentences make us think about the comparisons. Just like the similes, they are different from analogies because they don't explain the relationships between the two things they're comparing. Comparing the eyes to windows makes us think about looking through them into a person's soul. In A Christmas Carol (1843), Charles Dickens compares the character Scrooge to a "tight-fisted hand at the grindstone" to make us think of hard work and harsh environments.

A grindstone is a stone wheel used to sharpen knives and smooth down objects.

Analogy Ebenezer Scrooge StudySmarterEbenezer Scrooge, pixabay.com

Analogy examples

An analogy can use simile or metaphor to compare two things and explain how they are similar, which makes it tricky to tell it apart from simile and metaphor. The key difference is that an analogy attempts to make an explanatory point.

My life is like an action movie. It's chaotic, overdramatic, and the music is way too loud.

The first part of this analogy is a simile: "my life is like an action movie". The second part explains how by showing what "my life" and "an action movie" have in common.

This explanation element turns a simile or metaphor into an analogy. In the example below from Hamilton (2015), the simile and metaphor examples turn into an analogy when we add the second element. The explanation tells us how the two are similar and helps us understand the first statement.

Type of ComparisonExample
Metaphor"I am my country."
Simile"I'm just like my country."
Analogy"I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy, and hungry."1

Try practicing this on your own! Find similes and metaphors, and then turn them into analogies by adding information to help explain an idea.

The explanation part of an analogy isn't always straightforward. Sometimes an analogy can state the relationship between two different things and leave it up to the reader to figure it out. The examples below show the relationships, but don't give a longer explanation afterward.

Finding my missing sock is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

On her first day at a new school, Joie was like a fish out of water.

In the second example, "Joie was like a fish" would be a simple simile, but specifying that Joie at her new school was like a fish out of water shows the relationship between Joie and a fish. Even though there's no added explanation, we can figure out what the analogy is trying to say.

Analogy - Key takeaways

  • Analogy is a comparison that explains the relationship between two similar things.
  • Analogy helps to explain something complicated by comparing it to something simple.
  • Figurative analogy compares very different things by highlighting something they have in common.
  • Literal analogy compares things that are very similar to draw conclusions about both.
  • The key differences between simile, metaphor, and analogy:
    • Simile says one thing is like another.
    • Metaphor says one thing is another.
    • Analogy explains how one thing is like another.

1 Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton (2015)

2 NRBQ, Magnet (1972)

Analogy

An analogy is a comparison that explains the relationship between two different things. It helps to explain a complicated idea by comparing it to something easier to understand.

Analogy explains a complicated idea by comparing it to something that's easier to understand. It can support an argument by showing how two things are similar.

In rhetoric, there are two types of analogy: figurative and literal. Figurative analogy compares things that aren't really similar, but have something specific in common. Literal analogy compares things that are truly similar and explains their relationship.

Figurative analogy compares things that aren't really similar, but have something specific in common. Example: "I'm like a magnet, you're like a piece of wood; can't get together, don't make me feel so good" ("Magnet", NRBQ)

Final Analogy Quiz

Question

What is the definition of Analogy?

Show answer

Answer

Analogy is a comparison that explains the relationship between two similar things.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simle, or metaphor?

"You're like a stinky old cheese, babe;
just gettin' riper with age." 
- Hairspray (2002)

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

What is the purpose of analogy as a rhetorical mode?

Show answer

Answer

Analogy helps to explain a complicated idea by comparing it to something that's easier to understand.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


"Time is money."

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

What is figurative analogy?

Show answer

Answer

Figurative analogy is a comparison of things that are not very similar, but share a common characteristic.


Example: "I'm like a magnet, you're like a piece of wood; 

can't get together, don't make me feel so good." 

- Magnet, NRBQ (1972)

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


"Bye bye, Lil' Sebastian,

you're 5,000 candles in the wind"

- Parks and Recreation (2009)

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

What is the function of figurative analogy?

Show answer

Answer

The function of figurative analogy is to enhance a description or illustrate a point.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


"I'm just like my country,

I'm young, scrappy, and hungry"

- Hamilton (2015)

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

What is literal analogy?

Show answer

Answer

Literal analogy compares things that are truly similar. 


Example: When tested on mice, this medicine improved sleep. Mice are similar to humans, so the medicine should improve sleep in humans.

Show question

Question

True or False: Analogy explains how one thing is like another.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


A good book is like a loyal friend.

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

What is the function of literal analogy?

Show answer

Answer

The function of literal analogy is to help in an argument by explaining real similarities.

Show question

Question

True or false: an analogy can contain a simile or a metaphor.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


"Baby, you're a firework"

Firework, Katy Perry (2010)

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

Question

How could you use analogy to help explain a complicated topic?

Show answer

Answer

You could compare it to something simple and familiar and explain the similarity between the two.

Show question

Question

Is this an example of literal or figurative analogy?


A human's arms are like a bat's wings. They're made up of the same type of bones.

Show answer

Answer

Literal analogy

Show question

Question

Is this an example of analogy, simile, or metaphor?


"Life is like a box of chocolates;

you never know what you're going to get."

- Forrest Gump (1994)

Show answer

Answer

Analogy

Show question

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