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What Is an Analogy?

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Analogies are a type of figurative language that helps enhance understanding by comparing an unfamiliar topic with a familiar one.

What is an analogy? Find out below.
Analogies can bring clarity to your writing.
What Are Analogies?

An analogy is a figure of speech that explains something unfamiliar by relating it to something familiar.

  • “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” —Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

If your writing is a dirty window your readers can’t see through, then analogies are the glass cleaners that clear everything up.

Below, we’ll elaborate on what an analogy is and how it can be a useful rhetorical device.

Analogies: Explanation and Examples

An analogy is a figure of speech that helps your readers understand something that would otherwise be difficult to comprehend. There are different types of analogies, but most work by comparing two unrelated things or ideas.

Here’s an example of an analogy that is often attributed to Albert Einstein:

You see, wire telegraph is kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.

This analogy makes a complex subject—the way telegraph and radio work—easier to understand by comparing it to the meow of a (long) cat.

Different Types of Analogies

The two most common types of analogies are one that conveys an identical relationship and another that identifies a shared abstraction.

Identical Relationship

The formula for this type of analogy is: A is to B as C is to D.

A dog is to a cat as sunshine is to rain.

This analogy expresses the comparable relationship between a dog and cat, sunshine and rain: they’re considered opposites.

Shared Abstraction

This type of analogy is one that brings clarity by comparing two unrelated topics and identifying a similar idea, pattern, or attribute.

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

This famous analogy draws a parallel between eating a box of chocolates and life: Sometimes you don’t know which chocolate you’re going to eat, like in life, in which you don’t know what’s going to happen to you.

This analogy starts with a simile, but its last sentence, which adds further explanation, is what makes it an analogy. We’ll elaborate below.

Analogies, Similes, and Metaphors: What’s The Difference?

Analogies, similes, and metaphors are all similar figures of speech that make comparisons. Similes and metaphors can be used to make an analogy. The difference between them is that analogies take the comparison a step further by adding an explanation.

  • Simile: She is like the sun.
  • Metaphor: She is my sun.
  • Analogy: “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” —Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

How To Write an Analogy

Analogies are a powerful tool that can enhance your writing by making things that are usually obscure and complex easier to understand.

If you’re writing about something that may be considered uncommon to your readers, use analogies to make it easier to comprehend. A good analogy:

  1. Draws a clear parallel between the familiar and unfamiliar topic or idea.
  2. Elaborates on the comparison to enhance understanding.

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