Conceptual Metaphors vs. Creative Metaphors

What's the Difference?

Conceptual metaphors are used to convey abstract ideas or concepts by comparing them to more concrete or familiar concepts. These metaphors help to simplify complex ideas and make them easier to understand. On the other hand, creative metaphors are used to evoke emotions, create vivid imagery, and add depth to language. They often involve unexpected or unconventional comparisons that can spark the imagination and engage the reader in a more playful or artistic way. While conceptual metaphors focus on clarity and understanding, creative metaphors focus on creativity and expression.


AttributeConceptual MetaphorsCreative Metaphors
DefinitionMetaphors that help us understand one concept in terms of anotherMetaphors that are used to create vivid and imaginative comparisons
FunctionHelps us understand abstract or complex ideas by relating them to more familiar conceptsUsed to evoke emotions, create imagery, and engage the reader's imagination
UsageCommonly used in everyday language and communicationOften found in literature, poetry, and creative writing
IntentionTo explain or clarify a conceptTo create a unique and expressive comparison

Further Detail

Definition of Conceptual Metaphors

Conceptual metaphors are a fundamental part of human cognition and language. They are used to understand abstract concepts by relating them to more concrete or familiar concepts. Conceptual metaphors are not just linguistic devices; they shape the way we think and perceive the world around us. For example, the metaphor "time is money" is a conceptual metaphor that helps us understand the abstract concept of time by relating it to the concrete concept of money.

Attributes of Conceptual Metaphors

Conceptual metaphors are systematic and pervasive in language and thought. They are not just isolated figures of speech; they are deeply ingrained in our cognitive processes. Conceptual metaphors are often unconscious and automatic, influencing our perceptions and judgments without us even realizing it. They provide a framework for understanding complex ideas by mapping them onto more familiar concepts. Conceptual metaphors are also culturally and contextually dependent, reflecting the values and beliefs of a particular society.

Definition of Creative Metaphors

Creative metaphors, on the other hand, are more playful and imaginative than conceptual metaphors. They are used to create vivid and unexpected comparisons that evoke strong emotions or create new insights. Creative metaphors often involve wordplay, humor, or exaggeration to make a point or convey a message. Unlike conceptual metaphors, creative metaphors are not necessarily rooted in everyday experience or shared cultural knowledge.

Attributes of Creative Metaphors

Creative metaphors are highly individual and subjective, reflecting the unique perspective and creativity of the speaker or writer. They can be used to challenge conventional thinking, provoke thought, or spark creativity. Creative metaphors often rely on the element of surprise or novelty to capture the audience's attention and make a lasting impression. While conceptual metaphors are more conventional and predictable, creative metaphors are unpredictable and open-ended, inviting multiple interpretations.

Comparison of Conceptual and Creative Metaphors

While conceptual metaphors are more systematic and ingrained in our cognitive processes, creative metaphors are more spontaneous and inventive. Conceptual metaphors provide a structured framework for understanding abstract concepts, while creative metaphors offer a fresh perspective or alternative way of looking at familiar ideas. Conceptual metaphors are more likely to be shared and understood by a wider audience, while creative metaphors may be more idiosyncratic and require more interpretation.

Examples of Conceptual and Creative Metaphors

One example of a conceptual metaphor is "love is a journey," which conceptualizes the abstract concept of love as a physical journey with a beginning, middle, and end. This metaphor helps us understand the ups and downs of relationships by mapping them onto the stages of a journey. In contrast, a creative metaphor like "her laughter was a symphony of joy" creates a vivid and imaginative comparison between someone's laughter and a musical symphony, evoking a sense of beauty and harmony.


Conceptual metaphors and creative metaphors both play important roles in language and thought. While conceptual metaphors provide a structured framework for understanding abstract concepts, creative metaphors offer a fresh and imaginative perspective. Both types of metaphors have their own unique attributes and serve different purposes in communication and expression. By understanding the differences between conceptual and creative metaphors, we can appreciate the richness and complexity of language and the human mind.

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