An Investigation into Metaphor Use at Different Levels of Second Language Writing

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  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Recent studies in linguistics have shown that metaphor is ubiquitous. This has important consequences for language learners who need to use it appropriately in their speech and writing. This study aims to provide a preliminary measure of the amount and distribution of metaphor used by language learners in their writing across CEFR levels. Two hundred essays written by Greek and German-speaking learners of English are examined for their use of metaphor. The findings are that the overall density of metaphor increases from CEFR levels A2 to C2. At lower levels, most of the metaphoric items are closed-class, consisting mainly of prepositions, but at B2 level and beyond, the majority of metaphoric items are open-class. Metaphor is used to perform increasingly sophisticated functions at each of the levels. At B2 level significantly more errors start to be perceived in the metaphorically-used words and there is more evidence of L1 influence. Descriptors are provided for CEFR levels A2-C2 regarding the use of metaphor.


Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)117-144
Number of pages27
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number2
Early online date2 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2014


  • metaphor, Language learning