Beyond literal similarity

Andrew Ortony*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

347 Scopus citations


Previous theories of similarity have restricted themselves to judgments of what might be called literal similarity. The argument presented here is that a complete account of similarity needs also to be sensitive to nonliteralness, or metaphoricity, an aspect of similarity statements that is most evident in similes but that actually underlies metaphorical language in general. The claim that metaphoricity can be represented in terms of the relative degrees of salience of matching (or matchable) attributes of the 2 terms in a comparison is advanced. A modification of A. Tversky's (1977) account of similarity is proposed, and its implications for similarity statements and for the psychological processes involved in their comprehension are discussed. It is argued that the general account of similarity proposed, including as it does nonliteral similarity, can form not only the basis of a theory of metaphor but can also give a credible account of the relationship between metaphor, analogy, and similarity. (39 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-180
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1979


  • nonliteral similarity statements, proposed theory of similarity as basis for theory of metaphoricity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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