Valentine's Day Language: Learning Idioms, Metaphors, and Similes

Deciphering Valentine's Day Messages

Traditional Linzer cookie with strawberry jam, top view. Female hands making cookies.
Anjelika Gretskaia / Getty Images

Since the language of Valentine's Day cards is so flowery and romantic, it provides the perfect opportunity to help your child learn about some of the different ways people make language more interesting. In particular, you can use Valentine's Day writing to teach your child about idioms, metaphors, and similes.

Figurative Language

One way to help your child understand what you mean when you talk about figurative language is to have him look at some of his Valentine's Day cards.

Any card that uses words to compare something to something else ("your smile is like...") is using figurative language. There are three types of figurative language your child is most likely to see on Valentine's Day:

  1. Simile: A simile uses language to compare two things that are not alike, applying the words "like" or "as" to compare them. A good Valentine's Day example of a simile is the line "O, my Luve's like a red, red rose," an excerpt from Robert Burns' poem "A Red Red Rose."
  2. Metaphor: A metaphor is similar to a simile in that it compares two things that are not alike, but it doesn't use "like" or "as" to do so. Instead, a metaphor says that the first thing is the other, but figuratively. For example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic lines: "Love is flower-like, Friendship is a sheltering tree" do not directly compare love and friendship to plants; they say that aspects of love and friendship are similar to aspects of trees in that, for example, they both provide a type of shelter.
  3. Idiom: An idiom is a phrase or expression in which the figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, "having a heart of gold" doesn't mean someone has a gold heart but that a person is very generous and caring. It takes the form of a metaphor but has been used often enough to become an accepted unit of a language.

Practicing Similes and Metaphors

There are a few ways you can practice using figurative language with your child on Valentine's Day. One way is to ask her to create a list of similes and metaphors using the word "love."

They don't have to be poetic and can be silly if she wants, but make sure she identifies which ones are similes and which are metaphors. If she's having trouble, provide her with your own phrases and ask her to identify whether they are metaphors or similes.

Deciphering Idioms

Another way to practice figurative language with your child is to provide him with some Valentine or love-related idioms to try to decipher. Ask him what he thinks the phrases mean literally and then what idea they are trying to express, which might differ from the literal meaning. Here are some heart and love idioms to get you started:

  • Have a change of heart
  • From the bottom of my heart
  • A soft spot in my heart for you
  • Having a heart-to-heart talk
  • My heart skipped a beat
  • Home is where the heart is
  • Love at first sight
  • A labor of love
  • No love lost
  • Puppy love
  • Head over heels in love