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Metaphrase is a 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.[4] Quintilian draws a distinction between metaphrase and paraphrase in the pedagogical practice of imitation and reworking of classical texts; he points out that metaphrase changes a word, and paraphrase, a phrase: a distinction that is also followed by Renaissance scholars.[3]


  1. ^ Ovid's Epistles, Preface by John Dryden, London: Jacob Tonson, 1681, cited in Baker, Malmkjær, p. 153
  2. ^ Andrew Dousa Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008, ISBN 0-559-76232-1, p.18
  3. ^ a b Baker, Malmkjær, p. 154
  4. ^ a b Baker, Malmkjær, p. 153