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There are many different types of literary devices that you can use to make a bigger impact with your writing. And when it comes to comparing two things, an analogy might just be the perfect device for the job.

Analogies are used to show a common thread between two objects or ideas. In writing, they can be an effective tool for not just showing how two things are similar but also highlighting how they are different. But to use them correctly, you need to know exactly what analogies are, as well as the basics of writing analogies and using them in everyday speech.

Here’s what to know about this common literary tool, including a simple analogy definition, various examples of analogies, and a quick guide to analogy types and tips. 

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What is an Analogy?

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

If you want to learn how to use analogies, you first have to understand their purpose and function.

An analogy is a literary device that draws an unexpected comparison between two things. The goal when writing analogies is to deepen the reader’s understanding of one or both of the objects of comparison, either as a means of explanation or as a way to make a broader and more pointed statement.

There’s an inherent complexity to analogies that you won’t find in similes and metaphors, which are close cousins to analogies but don’t quite reach the same depth of meaning. So as you experiment with using analogies in personal essays, literary fiction, and other types of writing, think about not just the common thread between the two objects or ideas that you are comparing but the message you are trying to send to your audience.

Analogy Examples

A good way to spot an analogy is by looking for telltale phrases like “is to”/”are to,” and “is like”/”are like,” though the phrasing isn’t always so obvious, especially in classic literature. Take a look at these famous examples of analogies, and try to pick out the phrase (or assumed phrase) that is linking the two objects and setting up the comparison.

  • “Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” – Leo Tolstoy
  • “I can admire the perfect murderer—I can also admire a tiger—that splendid tawny-striped beast. But I will admire him from outside his cage. I will not go inside.” – Agatha Christie, Cards on the Table
  • “Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place…” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • “Fleas are like a bad habit—awfully hard to get rid of once you get them.” – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
  • “Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup.” – Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris

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5 Types of Analogies

There are quite a few analogy types, each of which serves to highlight a comparison in a unique way. These five are among the most popular and can be used at different times in your writing to draw a relationship between two things.

1. Synonyms

Synonym analogies compare two pairs where each pair has two words or phrases that mean the same thing. The two pairs do not have to be (and often will not be) synonymous with each other.

Examples:

  • Chilly is to cold as boiling is to hot.
  • Brave is to heroic as cowardly is to craven.
  • Vibrant is to colorful as drab is to dull.

2. Antonyms

Antonym analogies function a lot like synonym analogies, however instead of each pair having the same meaning they have opposite meanings. Further, the words, objects, or ideas used in each half of the analogy should have the same opposite relationship so that the connection is actually heightened by the differences in meaning.   

Examples:

  • Day is to night as up is to down.
  • Wet is to dry as full is to starving.
  • Evil is to kindness as selfishness is to generosity.

3. Cause to Effect

A cause to effect analogy compares two causal relationships. In each pair, the first word or phrase will be the cause and second will be the effect, with the causal relationships themselves being shared between the two analogous pairs.

Examples:

  • Sing is to music as talk is to speech.
  • Seed is to plant as thought is to idea.
  • Recipes are to cooking as algorithms are to programming.

4. Source to Product

A source to product analogy, also known as a producer to product analogy, compares two pairs where the first word or phrase is the thing that is all or partly responsible for the second word or phrase. As with cause to effect analogies, these two pairs share a causal connection.

Examples:

  • Bees are to honey as cows are to milk.
  • Film is to pictures as canvas is to paintings.
  • Electricity is to lighting as gas is to cooking.  

5. Object to Function

In an object to function analogy, each pair presents two words or phrases where the first is an item and the second is the thing that item does. And once again, it is both the connection between the two items in the pair and the connection between the two pairs themselves that provides the larger meaning behind the analogy.

Examples:

  • Scissors are to cutting as needles are to sewing.
  • Books are to reading as movies are to watching.
  • Cars are to driving as boats are to sailing.  

Analogies in Writing

You’ll find ample use of analogies in literature and other forms of writing. Authors use analogies in everything from character descriptions to dialogue to plot exposition as a tool to further the reader’s understanding of what’s going on. Analogies can create more vivid imagery or explain something that might be otherwise misunderstood. They can also be used to suggest deeper meanings than what’s right there on the page—a tactic used often in fiction.

Examples of Analogies in Literature

  • “By degrees, the bitterness at my heart diffused itself to the circumference of the circle in which my life went its cheerless mechanical round.” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton, A Strange Story
  • “Just as all the water that was in my body last time we met has now been replaced with new water, the things that make up me have changed too.” – Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman

Analogies in Poetry

Poetic analogies serve the same purpose as analogies in other types of writing, with poets using analogies to heighten self-expression and lend more meaning to their work. And in many ways, poetry serves as a perfect format for the use of analogies, allowing for purposeful comparisons that don’t have to fit the more rigid structures of prose.

Examples of Poetic Analogies

  • “The day is done, and the darkness / Falls from the wings of Night, / As a feather is wafted downward / From an eagle in his flight.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Day is Done”
  • “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight / Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

How to Write Analogies

Using analogies in your writing can help your readers better understand what you’re trying to say, but you have to make sure that you use them appropriately if you want to get your point across.

Here are a few tips on how to use analogies that you can put to use next time you sit down to write:

  • Keep it at least somewhat simple. An analogy can only be effective if it’s clear what the connection is. You don’t have to dumb it down, but do make sure that the relationship is easy enough to deduce so that your readers can get the full effect of the comparison.
  • Don’t force it. A forced analogy will only backfire. This applies to both the context you use the analogy in and the analogy itself. If you find yourself struggling to write an analogy that says what you want it to, that may just not be the place to include one.
  • Compare something concrete with something abstract. If both parts of your analogy are abstract, your reader will have to do mental gymnastics to figure out the purpose. And if they’re both too concrete and obvious, there’s really no point in the analogy in the first place. Hit the sweet spot instead, and compare something abstract with something concrete for maximum impact.

Analogies are one more way to make broader, bolder statements with your work. It can take some practice to write them, though, so take your time coming up with powerful analogies, and don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it right away. 

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