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Pun vs. Metaphor — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Urooj Arif — Updated on March 19, 2024
A pun is a play on words that exploits similar sounding words or multiple meanings for humorous or rhetorical effect, while a metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea.
Pun vs. Metaphor — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Pun and Metaphor


Key Differences

Puns are a form of wordplay that utilize the nuances of language to create humor or emphasize a point through the clever use of similarly sounding words with different meanings, or a single word that carries multiple meanings. For example, a classic pun is: "I used to be a baker, but I couldn't make enough dough." This exploits the dual meanings of "dough" (bread mixture and money). Metaphors, on the other hand, draw direct comparisons between two unrelated things, suggesting they are alike in a significant way, without using "like" or "as" (which would make it a simile). An example of a metaphor is, "Time is a thief" here, time is not literally stealing anything, but the phrase suggests that time can take away life's moments as a thief would.
Puns often rely on the linguistic structure of the language they are in, making them particularly language-specific and sometimes difficult to translate. Their effectiveness hinges on the listener's or reader's understanding of the dual meanings or sounds of the words involved. Metaphors, by contrast, rely on conceptual understanding and the ability to perceive abstract similarities between two concepts, making them more universally understandable across languages and cultures.
While puns are primarily used for comedic effect or to play on words in a light-hearted manner, metaphors serve a broader range of purposes. They are a powerful literary device used in poetry, literature, and everyday language to evoke vivid imagery or to convey deep and complex ideas in a concise manner. Metaphors can enhance the emotional impact or clarity of a statement by linking it to familiar images or concepts.
The creation and interpretation of puns require a keen awareness of the sounds and meanings of words, as well as a sense of timing when used in speech. Crafting a metaphor, however, demands an understanding of the deeper connections between seemingly disparate elements, with the aim of revealing underlying truths or providing new perspectives on a topic.
Both puns and metaphors enrich language, offering different ways to play with words and ideas. Puns bring humor and wit into communication, inviting listeners to engage with language on multiple levels. Metaphors, by extending beyond the literal meanings of words, allow for the exploration of complex feelings and thoughts, often making abstract concepts more tangible and relatable.

Comparison Chart


A play on words exploiting similarities in sound or multiple meanings for humor or effect.
A figure of speech that describes something as being the same as something else in a non-literal way.

Primary Purpose

To create humor or emphasize a point through wordplay.
To explain an idea or make a comparison by stating one thing is another.


Relies on linguistic features such as homophones or homonyms.
Draws on conceptual similarities between two different things.


Often produces a humorous or witty effect.
Evokes vivid imagery or deepens understanding of an idea.


"I used to be a baker, but I couldn't make enough dough."
"Time is a thief."

Compare with Definitions


A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word.
Santa's helpers are known as subordinate Clauses.


Used to imply a resemblance without using like or as.
The classroom was a zoo.


Can also rely on similar-sounding words with different meanings.
A bicycle can't stand alone because it is two-tired.


A statement that one thing is another thing, helping to explain an idea.
Her voice is music to his ears.


Often used in jokes, advertising, and creative writing.
Energizer Bunny arrested – charged with battery.


Common in literature, speeches, and everyday language to convey deeper meanings.
The world's a stage.


The pun, also known as paronomasia, is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use of homophonic, homographic, metonymic, or figurative language.


A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide (or obscure) clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.


A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.


A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable
Her poetry depends on suggestion and metaphor
When we speak of gene maps and gene mapping, we use a cartographic metaphor


To make puns or a pun.


A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).


(transitive) To beat; strike with force; to ram; to pound, as in a mortar; reduce to powder, to pulverize.


One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven" (Neal Gabler).


(intransitive) To make or tell a pun; to make a play on words.
We punned about the topic until all around us groaned.


The use of a word or phrase to refer to something other than its literal meaning, invoking an implicit similarity between the thing described and what is denoted by the word or phrase.


A joke or type of wordplay in which similar definitions or sounds of two words or phrases, or different definitions of the same word, are deliberately confused.


A word or phrase used in such implied comparison.


: a Korean unit of length equivalent to about 0.3{{nbsp}}cm.


The use of an everyday object or concept to represent an underlying facet of the computer and thus aid users in performing tasks.
Desktop metaphor; wastebasket metaphor


To pound.
He would pun thee into shivers with his fist.


(intransitive) To use a metaphor.


To make puns, or a pun; to use a word in a double sense, especially when the contrast of ideas is ludicrous; to play upon words; to quibble.


(transitive) To describe by means of a metaphor.


To persuade or affect by a pun.


The transference of the relation between one set of objects to another set for the purpose of brief explanation; a compressed simile; e. g., the ship plows the sea.


A play on words which have the same sound but different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation.
A better put on this word was made on the Beggar's Opera, which, it was said, made Gay rich, and Rich gay.


A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity


A humorous play on words;
I do it for the pun of it
His constant punning irritated her


Make a play on words;
Japanese like to pun--their language is well suited to punning

Common Curiosities

Do puns serve a purpose beyond humor?

While primarily used for humor, puns can also highlight the nuances of language or make memorable points in advertising and branding.

Are puns found in all languages?

Puns are found in many languages, though their form and frequency vary due to differences in linguistic structure and cultural context.

What makes a pun effective?

The effectiveness of a pun depends on the listener's understanding of the word's dual meanings or the similar sounds of the words involved.

Can a metaphor become a cliché?

Yes, overused metaphors can become clichés, losing their original impact and becoming a part of everyday language.

Can metaphors be visual as well as verbal?

Yes, metaphors can be conveyed through visual arts and non-verbal mediums, illustrating concepts through imagery.

Is it easier to create a pun or a metaphor?

This depends on the creator's intent and skill with language; puns require a knack for wordplay, while metaphors need insight into the thematic connections between different elements.

Can metaphors be harmful?

Yes, metaphors can perpetuate stereotypes or misconceptions if they link negative attributes to certain groups or concepts.

How do metaphors enhance communication?

Metaphors enhance communication by linking complex ideas to familiar concepts, making abstract notions more accessible and emotionally resonant.

How do metaphors differ from similes?

Metaphors state outright that something is another thing, while similes use "like" or "as" to compare two things.

Are there any rules for creating puns?

While there are no strict rules, effective puns often rely on surprise, timing, and a deep understanding of word meanings and sounds.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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