A Comparative Analysis of Metonymy and Metaphor

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In the English language, there are many different figures of speech. Metonymy is one of them, according to Riemer (2010). Metonymy can be defined in terms of conventional rhetoric. In this situation, it serves as a figure of speech based on the link between two closely related phrases (Riemer, 2010). Metonymy, according to Hinton (2016), plays a vital function in communication. It improves the meaning attributed to diverse words, hence boosting understanding.

The author will examine the numerous features of metonymy in this study. To this end, the author will pay special attention to the differences between this figure of speech and metaphor.

A Review of Research on Metonymy and its Differences with Metaphor

A number of books and articles have been written on metonymy and its role in communication. Some of these studies focus on the differences between metonymy and metaphor. For instance, in the book Meaning in Language, Cruse (2011) gives several examples of metonymy and metaphors. In giving these examples, Cruse (2011) observes that metonymy and metaphor entail non-literal use of words. When used this way, metonymy and metaphor helps to extend the meaning ascribed to words in communication. An example of a metonym given by Cruse (2011) is “a quick bowl of soup” (p. 460). On its part, “a fruitless attempt” (Cruse, 2011, p. 460) is given as an example of a metaphor.

Riemer (2010) is of the opinion that metonymy can be used to pass meaning in an innovative manner. In this case, this figure of speech can be described as “the use of words for the near neighbors of the things you mean” (Riemer, 2010, p. 377). Metaphor is different from metonym considering that it entails the use of words for look-alikes. An example is when one describes a tall person by likening their height to a tree (Geeraerts, 2002). Greisdorf and O’Connor (2002) expand on this idea by observing that metonym involves the description of objects and subjects by using elements that are not apparent or present in them. To this end, this figure of language enhances imagery and improves communication.

Metonymy and Metaphor: A Discussion

It is hard to imagine a language or conversation devoid of metonymy and metaphor. Lack of these figures of speech will make communication a dreary experience, which lacks to engage the faculties of the parties involved in an exchange (Geeraerts, 2002). It is one of the reasons why these figures are found in everyday communication. There are various types of metonymy (Hinton, 2016). Hinton (2016) gives the example of synecdoche and metalepsis. The former describes a figure of speech involving the use of a precise component of an element to make reference to the whole. An example of a synecdoche metonymy is the expression “bread and butter”, which is common in literature. The expression is used to describe a mean of livelihood. Closer home, “America” can also be described as metonymy used to refer to “the United States of America”.

According to Hinton (2016), metalepsis can be described as a specific type of metonym. In this case, words and phrases of allegorical speech are applied within a new setting. When this happens, the speaker uses the resulting figure of speech to make reference to an existing one (Greisdorf & O’Connor, 2002). For instance, “bread and butter”, a synecdoche, can be span into a metalepsis. As such, the new sentence, “tomorrow I need to get up early to ensure my children continue to enjoy the bread and butter they are used to”, becomes a metalepsis. In the new sentence, the speaker is trying to say that they need to get up early to ensure that their children continue to enjoy the livelihood they are accustomed to.

A number of words can be used to differentiate between a metonymy and a metaphor. They include substitution and association. With regards to this, one may argue that metaphor involves the substitution of words on the basis of resemblance (Riemer, 2010). On the contrary, metonymy involves association of words on the basis of their contiguity. A classic example is when Broadway, a street in Manhattan, is used in music and art. The resulting phrase, “Broadway Theater” becomes a metonymy. The expression is used to refer to American theater. The same happens when Hollywood is used to refer to the U.S film industry (Hinton, 2016).


Metonymy and metaphor are figures of speech used in the English language. The use of these expressions improves understanding and communication in general. The two figures of speech share a number of similarities. However, it is important to note that there are significant differences between the two. Whereas metaphor involves substitution of words, metonymy entails association of the same. As a result, linguists argue that the use of metaphors constrains one’s thinking capacity. On the contrary, metonymy expands the scope of communication by combining ideas. Linguists identify a number of specific subclasses of metonymy. They include synecdoche, metalepsis, and polysemy. All these expressions involve the use of words on the basis of association.


Cruse, A. (2011). Meaning in language: An introduction to semantics and pragmatics (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geeraerts, D. (2002). The interaction of metaphor and metonym in composite expressions. In R. Dirven & R. Porings (Eds.), Metaphor and metonym in comparison and contrast (435-465). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Greisdorf, H., & O’Connor, B. (2002). Modeling what users see when they look at images: A cognitive viewpoint. Journal of Documentation, 58(1), 6-29.

Hinton, L. (2016). Jayne Cortez, Adrienne Rich, and the feminist superhero: Voice, vision, politics, and performance in U.S. contemporary women’s poetics. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Riemer, N. (2010). Introducing semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

May 24, 2023
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