Metaphor vs. Simile: Understand the Difference

metaphor vs simileIt’s not uncommon to hear the terms metaphor and simile used interchangeably and they can be easily confused. There are some very basic differences when it comes to a metaphor vs. simile; knowing these differences can set you apart from others in a social or professional setting but moreover, helps you to better guage appropriateness of statements and phrases in a wide range of situations.

What is a Metaphor?

A Metaphor can be categorized as a saying or figure of speech here the writer makes a comparison or draws a parallel between two seemingly unrelated things. Stated another way, a metaphor is a way to describe something by saying that it is in some way the same as something that seems completely unrelated. In literary examples of a metaphor, you will find this figure of speech where two items are compared without the use of the words “like” or “as.” An Introduction to English Grammar is a good way to help you understand this concept even better.

What is a Simile?

A simile is a figure of speech where a writer finds and describes similarities or likenesses between two profoundly different things. In other words, a simile is completely rhetorical, making a comparison between two things as to show them being similar. In examples you find in literature, a similar will draw this comparison by using words to include “like, ““as,” “than,” and others that connect the two objects or items. In addition, Advanced English Grammar can take your comprehension level even higher.

The Subtle Differences

Often times, you will see the terms metaphor and simile used in an identical manner, but there are several differences between these two figures of speech. For one, a metaphor is more likely to be absolute about the sameness between two things. A simile, on the other hand, will often allude to or somehow convey the limitation of the comparison between the two items being shown as similar. Because a simile acknowledges the imperfections of the comparison drawn, they can be used more frequently because they can be more forgiving to the writer.

To break the metaphor down more fully, a metaphor will say that item 1 is item 2. Conversely, a simile will say that item 1 is like item 2. The metaphor goes so far as to say that the items are equal or identical whereas the simile only says that the two have similarities.

One of the most famous examples of a metaphor comes from literary master William Shakespeare. “All the world’s a stage …” In this case, Shakespeare uses a metaphor in that he is saying that the world is equivalent to a stage or that the two are exactly the same. Had Shakespeare used a simile, the language would have read something along the lines of, “All the world is like a stage…” where there is a similarity drawn. This point it driven down even further through 8 Secrets to English Success.

It is important to note that a metaphor does not have to be literal. It can be figurative as well. A simile is simply a comparison or drawing upon similarities.

It should also be noted that similes are inherently metaphors. The flipside is not true, though. Not all metaphors are actually similes.

metaphor vs simileRules for Use

When using metaphors and similes in writing or in conversation, it’s important to choose the appropriate vehicle for what you’re intending to convey. First, consider whether you want to show two things as being like or as being exactly the same. It can be said that a metaphor denotes two things as being equal while the simile brings them close, but not identical. Although, The Elements of English Grammar will set the record straight.

In conversation and in writing, there can be a tendency to use what are referred to as dead metaphors as well as mixed metaphors. A favorite mixed metaphor is “up a creek with a bull in the canoe,” which mixes the metaphor “up a creek without a paddle” and “a bull in a china shop.” If you intend to use a specific and well-known metaphor, be sure to get it right. Moreover, it would be beneficial to read Daily Grammar Practice: Tips and Tricks for Better English.

A dead metaphor is often another name for a cliché. A dead metaphor has been used so much that it does not cause the listener or reader to actually draw a parallel between the two because it is used so frequently, the definition is understood. Dead metaphors can take away from the message you’re trying to convey by seeming unoriginal, out of touch, or pat.


  • Poem writing: Write a poem to describe your day or events and situations that took place. For example, you can write a poem and describe your room such as, “My room is a queen’s court” or “My room is a jungle.” Those two descriptions would be metaphors. You can use “like” or “as” for similes.
  • Simile Dress Up: Imagine picking out clothing for a runway show. You could say, “I need a dress as blue as the ocean” or “A blouse as bright as the sun.” Get creative when picking out items of clothing. Keeping it descriptive makes it more fun, as well.
  • Complete the sentence: Have someone come up with half finished sentences. You would then complete the sentence or vice-versa. For a half finished sentence, you could say “My cat.” After that, you would end it with something to describe the cat. To illustrate a simile, you would say “My cat is as regal as a lion.” To make it a metaphor, you could write “My cat is a shadow.”

Remember, when it comes to a metaphor vs. simile, keep in mind that a simile is one of many types of metaphors but not all metaphors are similes. A simile shows two things as being equal and a metaphor is a figure of speech that equates two things. Keeping these rules of use in mind will help you to keep from using the two interchangeably and really showing your understanding of these two distinct and useful figures of speech.