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What Are Similes?

Updated on
September 23, 2022
Grammar

Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know which one you’re going to get.

Let’s use this example to understand what a simile is:

  • A simile is a phrase that uses a comparison to describe. For example, “life” can be described as similar to “a box of chocolates.”
  • You know you’ve spotted one when you see the words like or as in a comparison.
  • Similes are like metaphors. But metaphors aren’t the same as similes.
  • Similes are great for famous authors, public speakers, and folks who want to make their writing as exciting as a spontaneous show of fireworks.

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What is a simile?

Here’s a tip:

A simile (SIM-uh-lee) is a type of figurative language that describes something by comparing it to something else with the words like or as.

Even if you don’t know the definition like the back of your hand, you’ve probably seen plenty of similes. For example:

I know that definition like the back of my hand.

Those two are as different as night and day.

He stood out like a sore thumb.

That answer is as clear as mud.

Grandpa has a memory like a sieve.

The mouse is as dead as a doornail.

Here’s a tip:

Need a trick to remember? Simile sounds a lot like similar. Similes compare similar things, with help from the words like or as.

More simile examples

Similes can make writing more colorful and interesting. If you don’t believe us, ask these famous writers.

William Shakespeare

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night,

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear…”

Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

As a side note, the word “Ethiop” isn’t exactly politically correct. But Shakespeare didn’t know that when he used it to evoke Juliet’s jeweliness.

William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

that floats on high o’er vales and hills.

“Daffodils”

That’s pretty lonely.

Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore

And then run?

“Harlem, 2”

Don’t defer your dreams, folks. You don’t know what could happen to them.

Similes in writing

The above examples represent the height of poetic creation. But similes also boost everyday writing by painting a vivid image in just a few words. Compare these sentences:

Lois walked across the room with purpose.

Lois moved across the room like a warship sailing into battle.

The first sentence is relatively bland. But the simile in the second sentence invites the reader to imagine an old-fashioned warship sailing to battle: stately, determined, proud, perhaps with a hint of danger. It characterizes Lois as an imposing figure and hints that she’s planning something big once she gets to the other side of the room.

Simile vs. metaphor

Here’s a tip:

Similes and metaphors are both used to make comparisons or elucidate concepts, but they aren’t the same.

While a simile makes comparisons with help from like or as, a metaphor states outright that one thing is another thing. It’s important to understand the difference between a metaphor and simile.

To compare these forms of comparisons, here are some examples:

Life is like a box of chocolates. (Simile)

My life is an open book. (Metaphor)

That baby is as cute as a button! (Simile)

Baby, you’re a firework. (Metaphor)

Fun fact: Because they both make figurative comparisons, all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes. For the most part, keep like and as in mind if you’re on the hunt for similes, and you’ll be set.

 

Similes and exaggeration

Similes often make use of hyperbole, or exaggeration:

He runs as fast as lightning.

She’s as sweet as honey.

You sing like an angel.

Similes focus on a particular aspect of a comparison, so they keep hyperbolic statements from seeming over-the-top. Contrast these sentences:

Dirk’s a mean snake.

Dirk’s as mean as a snake.

The first version is a metaphor, but it’s so blunt that it risks seeming clumsy or childish. The second version, a simile, more clearly emphasizes the quality that Dirk shares with snakes: meanness.

Figurative language is an excellent way to add interest and imagery to your writing. So next time you’re struggling to find exactly the right words for a description, try to come up with a simile that’s as perfect as a flawless diamond.

Metaphor vs. Simile Quiz

Similes are often confused with metaphors because they serve similar functions. Take our short simile-metaphor quiz to check your understanding of these rhetorical tools.

Simile FAQs

What is a simile?

A simile is a figure of speech that describes something to be something else, but uses the words “like” or “as” to do so. 

What is an example of a simile?

“The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor key.” —Margaret Mitchell

How do you write a simile?

If something is hard to describe, explain that it’s similar to something that’s easier to understand, and use the words “like” or “as” to connect the two. 

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?

Similes and metaphors both compare two separate things, but only similes use the words “like” or “as.”

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