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Instruction 1-1


Idioms, Analogies, Metaphors and Similes | Roots and Affixes | Word Meanings | Summary

Boy Idioms, Analogies, Metaphors and Similes
CA GR7 R 1.1 & 1.2, CA GR8  R 1.1 & 3.6

"Words, words, words -- I'm so sick of words," a famous theatrical character (Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady) once said. But words are what make the world go 'round, as Eliza discovered. Written and spoken words are the way we humans communicate. So the more you learn about words, and the more words you learn, the better.

In literature (books, poems, magazines, comic books), writers use words in many different ways. Today we'll learn about four of them: idioms, analogies, metaphors and similes. Those are four technical terms for four different ways to make words more colorful and interesting.



At first, idioms can be confusing. An idiom is a phrase which has a different meaning from the meaning of its separate parts. For example, "to burn the candle at both ends" means to exhaust yourself by doing too much. At first, that might not make sense, but think about it. If you lit a candle at both ends, it would burn out twice as fast. If you do too much, you could burn out too.

Sometimes it's easy to tell what an idiom means. For instance, "it makes my mouth water" is an idiom for "it makes me hungry." And of course we do salivate when we see something delicious to eat. But "he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth" might be more difficult to understand, since nobody was ever actually born with a spoon. What this idiom means is "he was born rich."

There are some excellent links to lists of idioms at the end of this instruction and we suggest that you click on them. But here are a couple more idioms you might like to try using: "it was music to my ears" which means "I received good news" and "let's play it by ear" meaning "let's not make a definite plan--let's improvise."


An analogy is about the way words (and things) relate to one another. You often get analogy word problems on tests. That kind of analogy is made up of two pairs of words, like this:

PUPPY: DOG :: kitten: _____

What you are expected to do is to find a word which correctly completes the second pair. At first, the words may seem to have nothing to do with one another, but they are always related in some way. To solve the problem, you need to figure out what the relationship is. First, read out the analogy: 

Puppy is to dog as kitten is to _____  ?

Now it's easy to figure out. A puppy is a young dog, so what's a kitten? A young cat. The answer is "cat."

Unfortunately, many of the analogies you get on tests won't be that easy. But remember, the key is figuring out the relationship between the completed pair of words. Then you can match the other pair correctly. There are many different ways that words can relate, for example:

  1.  They can mean the same thing (be synonyms): 
                 WORK: LABOR :: tidy: neat
  2. They can mean opposite things (be antonyms):
                BEAUTIFUL: UGLY :: graceful: clumsy
  3. They can be parts of a whole: 
                LEG:MAN :: wheel: bike
  4. They can be ingredients:
               GRAPE: JELLY :: tomato: ketchup
  5. They can be descriptions (size, shape, color, texture, etc.):
               MINK: SOFT :: mold: fuzzy
               BLUE: SKY :: green: tree
  6. Or they can describe a cause and action:
              OWL: HOOT :: fan: whir

There are dozens of other possible relationships, too. For analogy practice, check out the links at the end of this instruction. It's a good idea to work on analogies, since you will definitely get them on tests. And besides, it's fun--like solving puzzles.

Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are both ways to compare things. We use metaphors and similes every day, but it can be hard to remember the difference. 

A metaphor is when you say something is something. Similes mean a something that is like another something. For example, let's say you have a mean stepfather. If you say, "my stepfather is a bear," that's a metaphor. But if you say, "my stepfather is like a bear," that's a simile.

It's easy if you remember this: if two things are compared with the use of the words "like" or "as," that's a simile. A simile is what's called an open comparison. One memory aid is that you find the letter "i" in both "like" and "simile." But if there's no "like" or "as," that's a hidden comparison -- a metaphor.

Here is a list of similes and metaphors:

Similes  Metaphors
her hair was like silk her hair was silk
mean as Oscar the Grouch meaner than Oscar the Grouch
the ship went down like lead dead fish are polished marble
light as a feather those figures are fishy
busy as a bee car salesmen are sharks
her gaze was like ice her gaze was icy

Both similes and metaphors are used frequently in literature, especially in poetry. A famous poem by Robert Burns begins, "My love is like a red, red rose." That's a simile. But when Romeo says, "Juliet is the sun" in Romeo and Juliet, that's a metaphor.

It can be hard to write or talk about ideas, events and feelings. But using idioms, similes and metaphors can make it easier.

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Now let's do Practice Exercise 1-1 (top).


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