Similes And Metaphors And The Difference Between Them

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Similes and Metaphors

Similes and metaphors are as easy as pie

What is a simile? What is a metaphor? What’s the difference between these two forms of figurative language?

A simile is part of speech that expresses similarity. It uses the as-adjective-as comparative form, or sometimes with like.

Due to the odd spelling and pronunciation of the word, ‘sɪmɪli’, one of my students once asked me what a smiley was. It took me a few moments to figure out what he meant. :)

Metaphors compare two unlike things and normally use the verb to be. It is often much more figurative language.

Where a simile is a figure of speech that can say someone is like or similar to something, a metaphor says someone is something.

For example.

Simile: Oh, he’s as solid as a rock. – He is very dependable

Metaphor: Oh, he’s the rock of my life. – He is the steadying influence on my life

A simile and metaphor can differ significantly in meaning, even if they both use a similar object for an implied comparison.

The baby was as good as gold. – The baby didn’t cause any problem and probably slept the whole time.

All that glitters is not gold. (William Shakespeare) – Don’t be fooled by what you see.


When do we use similes vs metaphors?

We use both in everyday language. However, similes are probably more common in spoken English.

On the other hand, a metaphor is a figure of speech that is more likely to be used, rather than a simile, as a literary device in literature or poetry.

There are no hard and fast rules. It depends on the word or phrase and the context. But it is easy to get metaphors confused with similes.

So in some ways, a simile is a type of metaphor. But remember that similes use the words as or like to compare, while metaphors state directly, and usually use the verb to be.

Here are some examples to help you understand and tell the difference between the various forms.


Related reading: How To Use ProWritingAid As Your Writing Editor 


Examples of common similes using as-adjective-as.

Without his glasses, Mark is as blind as a bat.

The governor always wins elections because he is as sly as a fox.

My puppy is as snug as a bug in a rug in my bed.

She has been as busy as a bee preparing for the party on Saturday.

It rained all weekend, but our new tent kept us as dry as a bone.

I don’t like my new boss because he is as cold as ice. He never smiles.

After two hours of scrubbing, my kitchen is now as clean as a whistle.

My brother helped me move house. He lifted all the furniture into the van by himself. He’s as strong as an ox!


Examples of common similes with like.

I know he’ll get the promotion, He fights like a tiger when he wants something.

Sam never puts on any weight, but he eats a lot like a horse.

When anyone tells her a joke, she laughs like a hyena.

My two sisters always disagree. They fight like cats and dogs.

The movie was so boring. It was like watching grass grow.

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.


Examples of common metaphors with the verb to be.

Any politician who favours peace is a dove.

He is a sly fox. He tricked me and didn’t pay for the ticket.

Our teacher always shouts at us. She is an absolute dragon.

She looks like a nice person, but it is not right. In fact, she is a snake in the grass.

He ignores all the problems with his kids. He’s such an ostrich.

He is only interested in money. He is a real pig.

My brother will never settle down. He is a butterfly.


Related reading: Stephen King’s No Adverbs Rule Is Going Out Of Fashion


Well known metaphors in literature.

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; (William Shakespeare)

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? (William Shakespeare)

I wandered lonely as a cloud, That floats on high o’er vales and hills. (William Wordsworth)

My love is like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June. (Robert Burns)


What are mixed metaphors?

These can be silly attempts at an implied metaphor comparison, or just getting the metaphor wrong.

We kind of saw the writing on the wall Friday night. It’s just apples versus oranges, and it’s not a level playing field by any means.

I knew enough to realize that the alligators were in the swamp and that it was time to circle the wagons.

Well, once the bowling shoe is on the other foot, look who’s the good cop and look who’s the bad cop.

The examples above are from ThoughtCo. You can read the complete list in this article.


What is a dead metaphor?

A metaphor is often labelled as dead when it is overused or has become a cliché.

We have to do something with our lives. Time is running out.

Did you hear that old Henry kicked the bucket?

Don’t argue with your boss. Just toe the line.


What is an implied metaphor?

This type of metaphor refers to comparing two things but subtly mentioning only one.

He was barking at his kids in the supermarket. (It implies a comparison to a dog.)

As soon as he heard about the big discount, he galloped off to buy a new phone. (It implies a comparison to a horse.)

Oh, she sailed through her driving test. (It implies a comparison to a yacht.)

The new gadget isn’t selling, so they have slashed the price. (It implies a comparison to cutting with a knife.)


How can you use these types of metaphors and similes in your writing?

When you are considering whether to use these parts of speech, the best advice is that similes, as well as metaphors, work best by using them sparingly.

Metaphors include a lot of old, redundant and hackneyed expressions so they can sound very old-fashioned or even clichéd.

Most similes are fixed expressions, which is hardly being creative when it comes to writing. Trying to create new expressions is very difficult, and they usually sound clumsy.

But as with everything in our language, all things are subject to change and progress. So try, but be very careful.

If you can learn to identify the different variety of forms that can be classified as a good metaphor or simile, at least you have the structure and the understanding of how to use them.

If the grammar is right, you are halfway there. It’s only the vocabulary and context that stands in your way of inventing an entirely new expression.


Further reading: Sometime vs Some Time or Sometimes Grammar Confusion


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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

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