Metaphor: Theoretical and empirical research

Andrew Ortony*, Ralph E. Reynolds, Judith A. Arter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Metaphor plays a major role in our understanding of language and of the world we use language to talk about. Traditional definitions and theories of metaphor are reviewed, and it is suggested that many definitions err in equating metaphors with comparisons rather than merely implicating comparisons. Empirical research is reviewed that reveals serious problems, particularly in the developmental research. These problems often relate to inadequate underlying theories about the nature of metaphor, inadequate controls over preexisting knowledge, and conclusions that children cannot understand metaphors. Related research on the comprehension of proverbs and analogies is discussed. It is suggested that metaphor be redefined and an investigative approach be employed that will permit adequate controls of preexisting knowledge, surface structure, and meaning. This approach could emphasize and takes advantage of the context-dependent nature of metaphors. Finally, the role of comparisons is reexamined. (69 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)919-943
Number of pages25
JournalPsychological bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1978


  • metaphor, review of theories & definitions & empirical research problems, literature review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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