When you want to describe something, choosing from a long list of adjectives may not always feel like enough. Sometimes, making a comparison to another object creates a more effective and vivid description.
For example, you could say that finding your ring amid the living room clutter “will be difficult.” Or, you could make that difficulty easier to comprehend by using the analogy, “finding the ring will be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
This use of analogies is common in the English language, both in writing and in everyday communication. Knowing how to use them effectively will help your audience better connect to your writing.
What Is an Analogy?
An analogy is a comparison between two things that share a similarity, with the ultimate goal of explaining or clarifying their connection.
The Importance of Analogy
Since analogies draw logical connections to make comparisons, they perform the following functions:
Analogies make the abstract more concrete.
Abstract ideas are often difficult to comprehend because they are not visible or tangible. But when you connect an abstract idea with concrete objects, it becomes easier to understand.
For example, in biology, it may be difficult to imagine what white blood cells do inside the body. A good teacher may describe their work as being similar to that of policemen defending a town against intruders.
Analogies build deeper connections.
Using analogies to describe an experience can touch on deeper emotions than simply stating facts. For example, in Psalms, David draws analogies on how he’s feeling, such as:
Save me, O God!Psalm 69 from The Bible
For the waters have come up to my neck
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
In reality, David was not literally getting drowned in water, but the turmoil of his emotions felt like it. Compare the depth of the text above with the simplified sentence below:
Save me, O God! I’m in the deepest trouble.
Examples of Analogies
Take a look at these examples of analogies and their meanings.
Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
This analogy, made famous in the film Forrest Gump, shows how life is full of chance and surprises, much like picking out a chocolate from a box without knowing what’s inside the candy.
She says that talking to her teenage son is like talking to a brick wall.
This analogy shows how futile the person feels it is to talk to her son: just like talking to a brick wall, she does not get through to him, nor does she get any response.
Just as the stomach is hungry for food, the mind is hungry for ideas.
British educator Charlotte Mason made this analogy in explaining how children’s minds need to be fed with ideas on a regular basis. With this picture, it becomes easier to imagine how often a child’s mind needs to be “fed.”
Two Types of Analogy in Writing
In writing, there are two main types of analogies:
Analogies between identical relationships
The root of the word “analogy” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “proportionality.” The Greeks used analogies to show the similarities between two words, usually for logical and argumentative purposes.
This kind of analogy uses an identical relationship between two pairs of words, as in, “Top is to bottom as left is to right.” Both pairs of words show an identical relationship, that of being opposites or antonyms to each other.
Analogies that highlight shared abstraction
Another form of analogy compares two items that are unrelated with the purpose of drawing comparisons between an attribute that they share. For example, raising children might be compared to gardening: water what you would like to grow, pull out the weeds you don’t want to see.
In writing, using this type of analogy helps make abstract concepts become more concrete, because it uses the reader’s experiences of familiar objects.
Word Analogies in Standardized Tests
Word analogies, also known as verbal analogies, are very common in standardized tests, such as entrance exams and job application tests. The analogy shows the relationship between two objects.
An example of a word analogy in a test is as follows:
lion : lioness :: bull : cow
You read this sentence as: Lion is to lioness, as bull is to cow.
This analogy shows the relationship between the first word and the second: the first word refers to the masculine form of the animal, while the second refers to their feminine form.
When used in tests, word analogies challenge a person’s logical reasoning by leaving one item blank, and the students will have to figure out the relationship between the first two objects on the left and apply the same relationship to the item on the right. For example:
hammer : nail :: screwdriver : _______
To complete this analogy, you first need to figure out what the relationship is between the first two words on the left. In this example, you can see that a hammer is the tool used to work with nails, which should prompt you to think about what works with a screwdriver.
Logically, the answer should be:
hammer : nail :: screwdriver : screw
How to Write a Good Analogy
If you want to incorporate solid analogies in your writing, here are some tips that will help you get your point across in a creative way.
1. Opt for common, easily-understood objects.
If you want to help your reader understand a concept, make sure you choose an example that is familiar and easy to understand for your readers.
For example, if you want to find an analogy to describe the education of children, it may be simpler to use the analogy of gardening, which most people have some experience with, as opposed to something like boat-building.
2. Think about similarities and differences between your objects.
While you may want to use an analogy to show how one item is like another, you should also pay attention to how they are different. Take the opportunity to explain these similarities and differences. Sometimes you may even stumble upon important imagery that you can use as you think of possible connections.
3. Aim to inspire your readers.
One mark of a good analogy is that it becomes memorable enough to inspire action. You can do this by selecting a word or picture that will stay with your readers in the long run.
This may possibly be why the parables that Jesus told in the Bible are very memorable: he made analogies using familiar, everyday objects such as wheat, fishing, and digging for treasure.
Using Analogies in Writing
Strive to make your communication clearer and more vivid by practicing the use of analogies.
You should also pay attention to clever analogies that you come across while reading; you can copy them down in a notebook for a collection of effective analogies!
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