Simile vs. Metaphor: How to Use Metaphor vs. Simile Correctly

Writers don’t always have the luxury of supporting their texts with colorful illustrations, and so they need to come up with ways to paint pictures using only words. Two of the most famous methods that work very well are simile vs. metaphor. Both of them are widely used by writers to create mental images for their readers and make their texts more lively and interesting. Though they both include comparing something to something else, there is one difference.

Simile vs. Metaphor: The Basic Understandings

Key Takeaways

  • Similes and metaphors enrich language by comparing different things.
  • Similes use connecting words like “as” or “like” for direct comparisons.
  • Metaphors imply a comparison by stating one thing is another.

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Simile vs. Metaphor: the Definition

Definition of Simile

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things using the words “like” or “as” to highlight a resemblance between them. It is often used to make descriptions more vivid and to create a clearer image or understanding for the reader or listener. 

Let’s say that a character in your story is in a very cold place. However, if you simply state that it’s very cold there, the text won’t be very powerful and won’t paint any pictures. To spark the readers’ imagination, you can make your character say, “It’s cold like in Antarctica here”. Everyone knows that it’s very cold in Antarctica, so your readers will have a better idea about what conditions you are talking about. And because you’re saying that something is like something else, this is a simile.

Definition of Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by drawing a comparison to another unrelated object or idea. It is used to create a vivid and imaginative connection between the two, often to convey a deeper meaning or to make a point more impactful. 

You can use the same comparison but state it differently: “It’s Antarctica here”. The character of your text isn’t actually in Antarctica; he simply compares the place where he is to it. Still, he says that something is something else. So, you have a nice little metaphor.

Simile and Metaphor: Common Structures

Common Simile Structures

When crafting a simile, we typically follow a few main patterns to draw comparisons. Let’s look at these:

  • “as [adjective] as [noun]”: This structure is frequently used to directly compare two things, often focusing on a particular characteristic. An example would be, “as bold as a lion.”
  • “like [noun/pronoun]”: Here, we use the word “like” to compare actions or qualities. For instance, “moves like a cheetah” suggests speed.
  • “[verb] like [noun/pronoun]”: This pattern is similar to the previous one but involves action. For example, “to fight like a tiger” implies ferocity in action.

Common Metaphor Structures

Metaphors come in various structures, but they all serve our need to create quick and potent understanding. We use them often in our daily language even when we might not notice it. Below are some of the commonly encountered structures:

  • Implied Metaphors: These are less direct but still draw a comparison between two concepts. For instance, if we say, “John barked his instructions,” we are comparing John’s way of speaking to the bark of a dog, implying aggressiveness without directly saying so.
  • Sustained Metaphors: Here, we extend a metaphor through a series of sentences or even throughout an entire piece of writing. It’s like painting with a theme, where each brushstroke contributes to the bigger picture.
  • Mixed Metaphors: These combine multiple metaphors, often resulting in a phrase that can be humorous or nonsensical because of incongruent comparisons. We might say something like “We need to iron out our bumpy road ahead,” mixing metaphors of ironing out wrinkles and smoothing a path.

Tip to Remember the Difference

When you use a SIMILE, you say that something is like or as something else. On the other hand, when you paint a picture by saying that something is something else, you use a METAPHOR.

Comparing Simile vs. Metaphor

Functional Differences

Similes are figures of speech that explicitly compare two distinct things by using connecting words such as like or as. For example:

  • Our homework was like a mountain, daunting and towering.

Metaphors, on the other hand, imply a comparison without using connecting words, making one thing become symbolically identical to another. Here’s an example:

  • Our homework was a mountain, overwhelming us with its scale.

Impact on Reader

The use of similes often makes the comparison more direct and clear to the reader, offering a straightforward connection between the two concepts:

  • Her ideas sparkled like diamonds, clearly illuminating and distinct.

Metaphors can be more subtle and evocative, creating a stronger emotional response or a more immersive experience:

  • Her ideas were diamonds, brightening our understanding with their brilliance.

Note:

Although similes and metaphors are very effective when you want to make the readers feel certain emotions while they’re reading your text, you should be very careful not to overuse them. You won’t achieve good results if you’re comparing every single word in your sentence to something else. Also, be careful not to use cliches, e.g. cold as ice, quiet as a mouse.

How do you know exactly what is in front of you, a simile or a metaphor when you see one? If there’s an “as” or “like” in the sentence, then it’s a simile. If it’s just a comparison, without any “helping” words, then you have a metaphor.

Simile vs. Metaphor Examples

Example of Simile

  • He moved as fast as lightning when the rain started to pour.
  • Her eyes sparkled like diamonds under the bright lights.
  • The baby’s skin was as soft as silk.
  • The new car was as clean as a whistle, without a single smudge or speck of dust.
  • The abandoned house stood silently, as lonely as a ghost in the still night.
  • The cake was as light as a feather, with layers that seemed to melt in your mouth.
  • The football player tackled his opponent like a lion pouncing on its prey.
  • The comedian was as funny as a barrel of monkeys, leaving the audience in stitches.

Example of Metaphor

  • Her voice was a melody, echoing sweetly in the auditorium.
  • The classroom was a zoo during the lunch break.
  • His mind is a computer, storing vast amounts of information.
  • The car’s engine is the heart of the vehicle, pumping power to its wheels.
  • Life is a rollercoaster filled with ups and downs.
  • The lawyer was a shark in the courtroom, fiercely attacking the evidence.
  • The world is a stage, and we are all actors playing our parts.

Simile or Metaphor: Practice and Exercises

Question: Can you identify whether each sentence contains a simile or a metaphor?

  1. Her eyes were like diamonds.
  2. The world is a stage.
  3. His voice is as smooth as butter.
  4. Time is a thief, stealing youth and beauty.
  5. The snow is a white blanket covering the earth.
  6. His words cut through her like a knife.
  7. The city was a jungle of concrete and steel.
  8. She was a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.
  9. The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.
  10. Life is a journey with many twists and turns.

Answer and Explanation

  1. Her eyes were like diamonds. (Simile) Explanation: This is a simile because it uses the word “like” to directly compare her eyes to diamonds.
  2. The world is a stage. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly equates the world to a stage without using the words “like” or “as.”
  3. His voice is as smooth as butter. (Simile) Explanation: This is a simile because it uses the word “as” to directly compare his voice to butter.
  4. Time is a thief, stealing youth and beauty. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly describes time as a thief without using the words “like” or “as.”
  5. The snow is a white blanket covering the earth. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly describes the snow as a blanket without using the words “like” or “as.”
  6. His words cut through her like a knife. (Simile) Explanation: This is a simile because it uses the word “like” to directly compare his words cutting through her to a knife.
  7. The city was a jungle of concrete and steel. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly equates the city to a jungle without using the words “like” or “as.”
  8. She was a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly describes her as a ray of sunshine without using the words “like” or “as.”
  9. The stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly describes the stars as dancing playfully without using the words “like” or “as.”
  10. Life is a journey with many twists and turns. (Metaphor) Explanation: This is a metaphor because it directly describes life as a journey without using the words “like” or “as.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?

We often get asked about how similes and metaphors differ. Simply put, a simile compares two different things by using the words “like” or “as,” providing a clarifying image. For example, “life is like a box of chocolates.” Conversely, a metaphor makes a direct comparison, stating that one thing is another, enhancing the description through symbolic meaning. An example would be, “Time is a thief.”

When should we use similes and when should we use metaphors?

Our choice depends on the effect we’re aiming for in our communication. Use a simile when we want to compare something explicitly without losing the real essence of what we’re describing. A metaphor is best when we want to imply a stronger or more integral relationship between the two elements we’re comparing.

Are all similes metaphors?

We see this tricky question a lot. While a simile is a type of metaphor since both use comparison, not all metaphors are similes. Metaphors encompass a broader range of figurative language, which includes similes as a specific, comparative form. We use similes to make direct comparisons, but metaphors for implicit or symbolic comparisons.

Last Updated on December 8, 2023

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