Analogy – The Informational Comparison

analogy literary device

The word analogy has its origins in Greek analogikótita, meaning proportionality. In ancient times, analogies were used to things by showing how they were related, usually in philosophical arguments. When the Greeks used analogy, they would often compare two sets of words side-by-side to illustrate this relationship. Example: white is to black as on is to off, meaning that black and white are complete opposites.

What is Analogy?

An analogy compares things by showing how they are alike. The comparison is often used to make a point or better describe something. Analogies so more than compare. They show and explain. Analogies are often confused with similes and metaphors. However, they are not the same thing. While similes and metaphors may be used in an analogy, an analogy does more than compare – it explains. It is good to remember:  Similes and Metaphors can be used in Analogy, but not all Analogies are similes or metaphors.

How to pronounce Analogy?


When do writers use Analogy?

Writers should use analogy when they want to give readers a better understanding of the abstract or complex. By using an analogy writers make these concepts easier to understand. use Analogy literary device to compare two different things or ideas to explain a concept or make a point. Analogy is often used to simplify an idea or explanation.

A favorite example of analogy is this: “Rearranging those chairs is about as useful as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. In this instance, the analogy is being used to point out that no matter how many chairs are rearranged doesn’t matter; it’s a futile effort.

Some Tips for Using Analogy in Your Writing

If you wish to work analogy into your writing, there are of course a few tips to follow to achieve the desired effect.

  • Think of ways to inspire.
  • Think about your audience and use comparisons they will understand.
  • Create simple, easy to understand imagery.
  • Work to compare and contrast.

And Remember: Analogy not only compares, it shows and explains.

The Two Types of Analogy

There are two types of analogy. These types are:

  • Analogies which identify shared relationships – This type of analogy is often found in logical arguments and compares things that are technically unrelated. When using this type of analogy, comparisons are straightforward and generally made in sets. Example: “White is to black like on is to off,” meaning that black and white are total opposites.
  • Analogies which identify shared abstractness – Analogies of this type involve two things that are technically unrelated but share similar characteristics and are useful for making your audience understand abstract concepts. For example, “Raising a child is like gardening, it takes both patience and practice.” Since parenting is a complex, abstract concept, this analogy helps to explain that like gardening, you must tend to your children with patience so that they may grow to be strong.

Analogy in Literature 📚

The House in Paris, Elizabeth Bowen uses analogy to say that like the saucer supports the cup, our memories keep love alive.

“Memory is to love what the sauce’r is to cup.”

Another modern example of analogy in literature comes from Peter de Vries in Let Me Count the Ways:

“If you want my final opinion on the mystery of life and all that, I can give it to you in a nutshell. The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.”

In this passage, de Vries uses the analogy that like the combination to the safe, life is a mystery, meaning that just as we may never understand the meaning of life, the safe may never be unlocked.

And finally, you cannot have a discussion about literary devices without including Shakespeare. After all, he seems to be a master of them all. In MacBeth, Act V, he compares life to a passing shadow – it is fleeting and comes as easily as it goes.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

And in Poetry ✍🏽

When examining analogy in poetry, the task can become. Analogies can be harder to identify because in shorter poems, you may find the analogy is not contained to a single line or two but rather, the entire poem. While that’s not the case in our first example, we have included one such example for review.

“There is no Frigate Like a Book,” Emily Dickinson – 

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll

How frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human Soul –”

In the poem above, the sections of interest have been highlighted to further explain the analogy in the line (and title), “There is no frigate like a book.” In this line, Dickinson compares a book to a war ship. The abstract concepts Dickinson refers to in this analogy are that of the imagination and the soul. She is saying that a book, like a warship, possesses immense power but also, it has the ability to take the reader all over the world if they can just imagine it.

This example is a little more complex, in that as previously noted,  the entire poem is the analogy. However, what Frost wants to convey is that as the seasons change, life also changes with each passing day. In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,Robert Frost uses analogy to compare seasons to life. He writes:

“Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.”

As the discussion moves forward, this section ends with William Wadsworth Longfellow and his poem, “The Day is Done.”

“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.”

In Longfellow’s analogy, he compares the coming of night to a feather falling gently and peacefully from an eagle’s wing.

Analogy in Film and Dialogue 🎥

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” –Forrest Gump (1994)

In this clip, Forrest compares life to the unpredictability of a box of chocolates. What the writers of this scene wished to convey is that just as you never know what you’ll get in a box of assorted chocolates, life is equally unpredictable.

Analogy in Advertising📺

Today, one of the most effective ad campaigns uses people as analogy. This was brought to life in the recent Apple commercial featuring Justin Long as a Mac.

But when it comes to marketing, the analogy itself can become abstract as in the example above. Analogies can be presented as images as in the Amazon shopping logo featuring the shopping cart and the A to Z connected with a smile.

More traditional examples include ads such as the ad slogan, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” The comparison being made is that of a good neighbor and the insurance company. What means a good neighbor is always there in a time of need and like that neighbor the insurance company will be there ready and waiting when you need it.

Often Mistaken for .. 👥

  • Simile – A comparison between two unrelated things using the word “like” or “as.” Example: “The biscuit is as salty as a pickle.”
  • Metaphor – A figure of speech describing an action or object in a way that is not literally true. Example: “Bob is a couch potato.”


What is an analogy in literature?

An analogy is a literary device that establishes a relationship based on similarities between two concepts or ideas. By conveying an idea or an argument with the help of an analogous situation, it makes it easier to understand a new idea by comparing it to a familiar one.

How does an analogy differ from a metaphor and a simile?

While analogies, metaphors, and similes all compare two different things, analogies are used for clarification, explanation, or argumentation, showing how two things are alike in more than one aspect. Similes make a comparison using “like” or “as,” and metaphors do so by stating something is something else, often in a more poetic manner.

Why are analogies important in literature?

Analogies are important because they help clarify complex or unfamiliar concepts by comparing them to something more familiar, making the new information easier to grasp. They also enhance the reader’s engagement by encouraging them to make connections between different ideas or themes.

Can you give examples of how analogies are used?

Examples of analogies include comparing the structure of an atom to a solar system to explain electron orbits, or likening the mind to a computer when discussing human memory. These comparisons help clarify the less familiar concept by drawing parallels to something understood.

How can I identify an analogy in a text?

To identify an analogy, look for a comparison that is used to explain, clarify, or argue for a concept through its similarities with another, more familiar concept. Analogies often go beyond simple comparisons to explore the relationships between different aspects of the two subjects being compared.