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:
- To say that someone has skin ‘like silk’ is to say that it is soft and smooth.
- To say someone is ‘busy as a bee’ is to say they’re working energetically.
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:
Tom Cruise is dynamite in his new film.
Here, for example, we’re saying that Tom Cruise is literally playing an explosive used in mining. What we mean is 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.
But while this is clearer, it’s less forceful than using a metaphor. The symbolic power of metaphors is also why they’re common in literature and poetry.
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.
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