Metaphrase is a translation term referring to literal translation, i.e., "word by word and line by line"[1] translation. In everyday usage, metaphrase means literalism; however, metaphrase is also the translation of poetry into prose.[2] Unlike "paraphrase," which has an ordinary use in literature theory, the term "metaphrase" is only used in translation theory.[3]

Metaphrase is one of the three ways of transferring, along with paraphrase and imitation,[4] according to John Dryden. Dryden considers paraphrase preferable to metaphrase (as literal translation) and imitation.

The term "metaphrase" is first used by Philo Judaeus (20 BCE) in De vita Mosis.[5] Quintilian draws a distinction between metaphrase and paraphrase in the pedagogical practice of imitation and reworking classical texts; he points out that metaphrase changes a word, and paraphrase, a phrase: a distinction that is also followed by Renaissance scholars.[6]


  1. ^ Ovid's Epistles, Preface by John Dryden, London: Jacob Tonson, 1681, cited in Mona Baker, Kirsten Malmkjær, Routledge encyclopedia of translation studies, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0415093805, p. 153
  2. ^ Andrew Dousa Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008, ISBN 0559762321, p.18
  3. ^ Baker, Malmkjær, p. 154
  4. ^ Baker, Malmkjær, p. 153
  5. ^ Baker, Malmkjær, p. 153.
  6. ^ Baker, Malmkjær, p. 154