Difference Between Symbol and Metaphor

Symbol vs Metaphor

The use of figures of speech to make the writing ornate and impressive is very old and poets and writers have been making heavy use of these figures of speeches to achieve the kind of intensity or beauty that they intend to make their audiences feel. Those who have been taught about these figures of speeches know very well what a symbol or a metaphor stand for and how they are used by authors, to make their writing more beautiful. However, there are many who find difficult to differentiate between a metaphor and a symbol as they have many similarities. Let us take a closer look.


The use of an image or a picture to represent something else than it stands for is called symbolism and is heavily resorted to by the authors. When you see the flag of a country in front of the name of a person on the internet, you immediately know about the nationality of the member. A flag stands for a country just like the shape of a heart is used to indicate love or romance in text. It is clear then that a symbol is something that stands for something else.

When you see the sign of plus, you immediately recognize it as that of a doctor. Symbols are not restricted to written characters alone, and there are symbols made of sound or even gesture that remind people of an idea or an event that is totally different. In literature, symbols are mostly used for comparisons as in the case of metaphors.


Figurative language that is full of figures of speeches is mostly associated with poetry, though it is a fact that we make use of these figures of speeches, especially metaphors in our daily conversation too. Metaphor is a figure of speech that allows a writer to compare objects that seem totally unrelated to each other. It is a type of analogy that makes it possible to compare different things like when Shakespeare says ‘All the world’s a stage’. Here, one can see that literally speaking; we know that the world is not a stage but still the writer is able to compare the world with a stage. Here, it has to be remembered that, in simile, a thing is likened with another while, in metaphor, a thing is another is what is inferred by the writer.

What is the difference between Symbol and Metaphor?

• A symbol makes use of a character or an image to represent something else.

• A metaphor allows a writer to compare seemingly opposite or unrelated things.

• There is no comparison in a symbol while comparison is the central idea behind metaphor.

• A metaphor tries to explain a concept to make for a better understanding.

• A ballerina is a butterfly is a metaphor while using the image of a butterfly for a ballerina is a symbol.