• 3-minute read
  • 1st January 2019

A Quick Guide to Similes and Metaphors

We use similes and metaphors to make comparisons. They’re often associated with poetry, but people use them in everyday language all the time (often without even realising it). How exactly do similes and metaphors work, though? And what is the difference between them? Let us explain.

What Are Similes?

A ‘simile’ is a comparison between two things used to highlight a quality (or qualities) they have in common. Typically, this will involve using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. For instance:

Glen had skin like silk.

Karis had been as busy as a bee all week.

Here, we have two similes. Each one draws attention to a shared quality:

However, we’re not saying that Glen literally has skin made of silk, or that Karis is flitting from flower to flower collecting pollen. Instead, we’re comparing two things to focus on something they have in common. And this is clearly indicated with the words ‘like’ and ‘as’.

What Are Metaphors?

Like similes, we use metaphors to draw attention to similarities between two things. However, metaphors work by describing something as if it were something else, not simply ‘like’ it:

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Tom Cruise is dynamite in his new film.

Here, for example, we’re not saying Tom Cruise has literally played the role of an explosive used in mining. We simply mean that he gives a powerful performance, similar to the explosive power of dynamite. We could turn the sentence above into a simile by adding ‘like’ before ‘dynamite’:

Tom Cruise is like dynamite in his new film.

This is clearer, but it’s less forceful than using a metaphor. And this symbolic power is why metaphors are particularly common in literature and poetry.

His most challenging role yet.
His most explosive role yet.
(Modified from a photo by Gage Skidmore)

Summary: Similes and Metaphors

We can use either a simile or a metaphor to make a comparison. The difference between the two lies in how we make that comparison and the language we use:

  • A simile involves saying that two things are similar using ‘like’ or ‘as’ – e.g. The rest of my life is like a long, winding road that lies ahead of me.
  • A metaphor involves describing something as if it were something else to draw attention to a similarity – e.g. The rest of my life is a long, winding road that lies ahead of me.

If you want to ensure you’re using similes and metaphors effectively in your writing, we can help. Simply send your document for proofreading and let us know what kind of feedback you’d like.

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