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Language tip of the week: intelligence

Learn English with Macmillan DictionaryIn this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this new series of  language tips we will be looking at how metaphor is used to express some common concepts in English. This week’s tip looks at metaphors used to talk about intelligence:

Intelligence is like a light. The more intelligent someone is, the brighter the light:

She is one of the brightest children in the class.
He is the most brilliant scholar in his field.
She shines at languages.
She outshines everyone else.
I had a sudden flash of inspiration.
I admired his dazzling/sparkling wit.
He never said anything and seemed a bit dim.
This is the work of a very dull mind.

Intelligence is also like a knife or blade. The more intelligent someone is, the sharper the blade:

He’s very sharp/sharp-witted: he notices everything.
She has a razor-sharp mind.
I want to cut through the waffle and get straight to the point.
We carefully dissected the problem.
He has a keen intellect.
They made some pointed remarks.
He was an incisive critic.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • Good explanation, although saying that ‘intelligence is like a light’ is technically a simile, not a metaphor.

  • Hi Mac. ‘Intelligence is like a light’ is indeed a simile. The format of these articles, and the Macmillan Dictionary features they are based on, is to identify a set of metaphors that apply to a particular quality or feeling, such as intelligence or happiness, and then to explore those metaphors. So ‘intelligence is like a light’, or ‘feeling happy is like being high up’ tell you what the metaphor is; as you point out they are not themselves metaphors.

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