What Is an Analogy?

Writing updated on  July 28, 2023 7 min read

An analogy explains an idea by comparing two things with a focus on how they’re alike.

You can better understand the meaning of analogy by contrasting this term with similar literary devices. Below, we explore the similarities and differences between analogy and simile, metaphor, and allegory to show how these ideas are related. We also include a few analogy examples and go into the benefits of using analogy to enhance your writing.

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Analogy definition

What does analogy mean? We can define analogy in two ways.

First, the most basic definition of analogy is a comparison that draws attention to what two things have in common. Analogy is an idea. Although the two compared things may differ in many ways, analogy zooms in on some aspect that they share and ignores their differences. Under this definition, similes, metaphors, and allegories are all ways of expressing analogy.

And second, analogy can be used as a literary device. When it is, it points out how ideas, people, or things are alike to illustrate a concept, add emphasis, show a relationship, or clarify a point, and it explains the comparison. It’s a useful tool in every type of writing, from academic papers to creative writing to marketing copy.

Analogy vs. simile

Is a simile a type of analogy? A simile is a method of expressing a similarity, while an analogy (under the first definition) is the idea of the similarity itself. A simile is a figure of speech, a non-literal language structure that a writer uses to accomplish a purpose. It often uses the words like or as and clearly draws a similarity through an explicit statement.

A simile can be part of an analogy used as a literary device (under the second definition). However, the analogy goes beyond the simile’s mere comparison. Rather, it uses the comparison to explain or emphasize something. The first two examples below are similes, and the third one is analogy used as a literary device. It contains a simile (shown in bold), and it explains the comparison.

  • Joey and Matt were siblings, but they fought like wild animals. (meaning their disagreements were uncivilized and maybe even violent)

  • “Every one of these old people was over ninety. They were as shriveled as prunes, and as bony as skeletons” —Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (meaning they looked very wrinkled and thin)

  • Life is like a bowl of cherries—it’s the pits. (meaning there are always unpleasant times hidden among the good parts of life)

Analogy vs. metaphor

A metaphor is also a literary device for expressing comparison. It is a much broader category that includes similes.

A metaphor is a figure of speech based on comparison, connection, or similarity between two things or ideas. When the relationship between the two concepts is explained to illustrate a point, the metaphor becomes an analogy used as a literary device.

In one of the most common types of metaphors, a writer compares two things or ideas by saying one thing is another. The writer doesn’t mean the two items are literally the same; it’s just a more poetic way of comparing them. Take a look at these examples. The bold text shows the metaphors, and the rest of the text makes the idea behind the comparison clear to the reader, which shows that these examples are analogies used as literary devices.

  • Mara got the assignment done, but it was only a drop in the ocean of the work she had to do (meaning she had so much work to do, one assignment barely mattered)

  • She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels” —Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (meaning she had the potential to flourish, but her life was so hard that it kept her from doing so)

  • Yindi came home to a zoo; her sister was on a Zoom call, so the kids had grown bored and decided to entertain themselves. (meaning the home was a chaotic and noisy environment)

Analogy vs. allegory

An allegory is another type of literary device. Like a metaphor, it doesn’t state the comparison outright as a simile does. However, an allegory is usually much longer than a metaphor. While a metaphor rarely spans more than a few paragraphs, an allegory is often the whole purpose and content of a piece of writing.

Its message is also typically harder to understand since an allegory uses symbols to make its comparisons. For instance, think of fables or parables.

Another example is the popular novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In the story, Alice falls asleep while lying in the grass and dreams about following a white rabbit into its hole. There she finds a whole new world of strange characters and adventures.

Like all the other characters in the story, the white rabbit represents something about real life and the society of Carroll’s day. As is often true, readers have diverse opinions about what exactly he represents—some say he’s a symbol of curiosity, while others say he stands for the tyranny of time, and so on.

Writers use allegory to point to a deeper meaning, such as a moral lesson or social commentary, and since this is a type of comparison, allegory is one way to express an analogy (the idea of a comparison). However, while an analogy used as a literary device is explained to ensure its lesson is clear, an allegory is not explained and might even be deliberately enigmatic. This mysteriousness is what sets it apart from analogy in writing.

Benefits of analogy

If you’re tired of using the same old language and need a better way to get your ideas across, analogy is an outstanding addition to any piece of writing. Here are a few ways it can bring life to your compositions.

1. Inspires creativity

Trying to come up with a good analogy can help you find a new and interesting way to compare two things so you don’t fall back on clichés. This leads to a better piece of writing that’s more original and more enjoyable to read.

2. Enhances communication

Using something that’s familiar to your audience in an analogy can help you make your point more effectively. Comparing an idea they understand well to one that’s more complex or less relatable to them can help them grasp new knowledge and insight.

An analogy can also elicit emotion. Comparing one thing to another thing that provokes a strong emotional response, such as disgust or elation, can affect a reader’s view of it and may even lead them to adopt your perspective.

3. Demonstrates understanding

If you’ve ever taken a standardized test, an employment test, or an IQ exam, you may have seen analogies with this type of phrasing:

________ is to _________ as _________ is to _________.

Sky is to blue as grass is to _______.

The correct response is green because green is the color of grass just as blue is the color of the sky.

These analogies appear in tests because they can help evaluate a person’s ability to think logically and grasp relationships between ideas. By making accurate connections between concepts, you show that you truly understand them. This is an especially useful skill in academic writing and can elevate your paper as long as you avoid using too much figurative language.

4. Improves memory

Because an analogy helps readers add knowledge and make new connections, it can also cause that information to stick in their minds. Think about how analogies can enhance communication—a light bulb moment or a strong visceral reaction is hard to forget.

Reminder: what does analogy mean?

Let’s take one last look at the meaning of analogy next to the definitions of simile, metaphor, and allegory to show how these terms compare:

  • Analogy—a comparison that emphasizes similarity, or a literary device that emphasizes similarity and explains it to illustrate a point
  • Simile—a language structure that compares two things directly, often using like or as; a type of metaphor; may be part of analogy as a literary device
  • Metaphor—a language structure that implies a comparison of two things rather than stating it directly; may be part of analogy as a literary device
  • Allegory—a language structure that uses symbols to communicate a deeper meaning, but without explaining that meaning like analogy does when it’s used as a literary device

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What is the difference between analogy and metaphor?

Metaphor is a literary device that uses language to express similarity. Analogy is the similarity that writers are expressing when they use metaphor and other literary devices, such as simile and allegory. When used as a literary device, analogy explains the similarity to illustrate an idea, while metaphor simply states the similarity. A metaphor can be part of an analogy.

What is an analogy for kids?

Here’s a simple way to define analogy for kids: an analogy is a comparison. When it appears in writing, it explains how two things are alike to teach a lesson.

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Hannah Skaggs

Along with Meredith Harris

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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