Sometimes, it is easy to get confused with the differences between similes and metaphors. After all, they are often used in very similar ways, and really only have very slight variations between the two. Both are comparisons between two unconnected things. How could someone’s mood measure up to a thunderstorm? How could a newborn baby signify hope? It’s all in the wording, and that is often where similes and metaphors will come in. The trick to discerning one from the other is all in the way they are presented.
Similes are rather more direct in their comparisons, making use of the words “like” or “as” to compare the qualities of one thing to another – “Her hair was as beautiful as a sunset.” Whereas a metaphor is somewhat more subtle, simply stating that one thing is another thing – “For busy parents, the television is a modern day nanny.” To help you understand the differences between the two, check out this list of simile and metaphor examples, and how best to use them in your writing.
Why Do We Use Similes and Metaphors?
Sometimes, it can be difficult to get a certain point across. Often, we find ourselves struggling with the proper way to describe something so that the reader (or listener) can picture it in the same way you do. In these cases, it is often helpful to draw a comparison.
Let’s imagine that you have lived in an area which has no access to the water, and you are given the opportunity to travel and see the ocean for the very first time. This is sure to be a moving, and breathtaking experience, and one you will definitely want to relay to your fiends back home. It just doesn’t seem like enough to say “It was big”, or “It was really cool”. There needs to be more of a descriptive element to your story to help paint the picture for your friends.
This is where similes and metaphors come in. Let’s look at some simile examples first:
“The ocean was as big and wide as the sky.”
“It was like looking over the edge of the world!”
“Parts of it were calm and clear as a mirror, while other parts were as rough and turbulent as storm clouds.”
“Seeing the ocean for the first time was like walking out into the sunlight after being kept in the dark.”
In each of those examples, you are asking your readers and listeners to recall other objects, and apply the properties of those objects (like the sky, a mirror, and sunlight), to the ocean to help them experience it in the way you did. These figures of speech are meant to be evocative and direct. It should put your audience in a position to imagine the specific feelings and images you experienced, even without being there.
Looking at the same ocean experience from the standpoint of metaphors, you will see that these comparisons are perhaps a little more subtle, but also full of potent imagery:
“Seeing the ocean for the first time was an eye opening experience.”
“The ocean was a boiling cauldron of water and life.”
“It was a thunderstorm turned upside-down, hammering on the shore.”
When Are Similes and Metaphors Used?
If you are in an English or literature class, it is possible that your first introduction to similes and metaphors will happen when you learn about either poetry or narrative writing. It is true that the images created by using these figures of speech can be very striking, and therefore are often used in these types of writing.
For Business Writing:
It can also be valuable and beneficial to use similes and metaphors in your everyday speaking and writing. Let’s look at a few examples which would be appropriate in a business setting. Imagine you are trying to arrange a meeting at work via email, and you want to convey how important the issue at hand is. You might try using some of the following similes:
“Our client is as anxious as a kid on Christmas morning. It’s imperative that we get him some plans today!”
“This issue is as complicated as a Rubik’s cube. It’s going to take everyone’s involvement to solve it right.”
“If we can close this sale today, the higher ups will be happy as clams. Let’s move on this now.”
Sticking with the same situation, you could just as easily use metaphors to convey the urgency of a pressing issue to your coworkers:
“This issue is a hot potato that has been passed around to much. We need to address it once and for all.”
“We are sitting ducks if we don’t get on this soon. We want to look good in front of our clients, and the boss.”
“If we can solve this today, and come in under budget, the client will be putty in our hands.”
Each example is comparing one aspect of the issue to an evocative image. Even though this is a business environment, and not a poetry class, similes and metaphors can be quite useful.
For Educational and School Related Writing:
They can also be used in an educational environment. Obviously, any writing assignment could always benefit from more description, and more examples to help your reading audience understand your point. Let’s assume you are working on an essay regarding a political topic, and you are trying to convey why this issue is so important to those involved. In this case, using similes and metaphors will give your readers something concrete to tie these ideas to, even if they are unfamiliar with the issue itself.
“Appointing this candidate to office will be like putting a fox in charge of a hen house.”
“Addressing the issue with a budget so small will be like trying to cure a severed limb with a band-aid.”
“Merely sitting in the White House makes you a good president about as much as sitting in your garage makes you a car.”
For metaphor examples, let’s switch over to English class. Here, you are likely to be called upon for some more descriptive and poetic writing. At some point in your writing career, you will probably have to come up with a few metaphors in a poetry lesson. Some examples may include:
“Her eyes were twin pools of deep, blue serenity.”
“His anger was a freight train, loud and dangerous.”
“An unopened book is your next big adventure, waiting to happen.”
These are perhaps more flowery examples of ways to get your readers to picture things a certain way, but a frequently used device in English and literature classes.
What Are Some Well Known Similes and Metaphors?
Believe it or not, you probably already know dozens of examples of similes and metaphors – you just may not realize that’s what they are. Many well known sayings are, in fact, great examples of these figures of speech. Let’s consider some of the following:
“My love is like a red, red rose.”
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
“This is yesterday’s news.”
“Shaking like a leaf on a tree.”
“Sick as a dog.”
“That rubbed me the wrong way.”
Similes and metaphors are a great and easy way to help make your written and spoken language more descriptive, and perhaps easier for your audience to connect with. These examples do not have to exist only in poems, you can use them every day. To learn more about poetry, check out Poetry: What it is and How to Understand it for more help.