Grammar 11 min read

Best Simile vs. Metaphor Guide With Easy Examples

Main Simile vs. Metaphor Takeaways:

  • A simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison using “like” or “as.”
  • Metaphors are also a figure of speech that makes a comparison, but they don’t use “like” or “as.”
  • Writers use both similes and metaphors to paint a literary picture, evoke emotions, and make text more descriptive.
  • Some consider metaphors stronger than similes because metaphors are more direct.
  • Turn a simile into a metaphor by simply removing “as” or “like” and any attached phrasing.
Simile: Her skin was like silk.
Metaphor: Her skin was silk.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
Metaphor: The eyes are the windows to the soul.
Two panels. First panel header reads simile. It shows a young man busy as a bee in front of his laptop. Second panel header reads metaphor. It shows a baby bear in diapers. Additional text reads
Writers use both similes and metaphors to paint a literary picture, evoke emotions, and make text more descriptive.

What’s the Difference Between a Simile vs. Metaphor?

Just one word accounts for the difference between a simile vs. metaphor. Both metaphors and similes are figures of speech we use to make comparisons. The difference between them is that a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to make an indirect comparison (fast as lightning) while a metaphor makes a direct comparison without using “like” or “as” (the classroom was a zoo).

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Simile: After Thanksgiving dinner, the entire family sprawled on the floor like a pod of beached whales.
Metaphor: After Thanksgiving dinner, the entire family was a pod of beached whales sprawled on the floor.

The word simile comes from the Latin word simis, meaning “like.”

This makes perfect sense because we know that all similes use the words “like” and “as” to show that one thing resembles another.

For example, do you remember fax machines?

The everyday term “fax” is actually short for facsimile, which is another word for copy. The document you receive is a facsimile, or a reproduction, of the original document. The facsimile is not identical to the original, but it looks a lot like it.

The baby was quiet as a mouse.
Be careful, his sister will scream like a banshee if she doesn’t get her way.
After so many years apart, his love for her withered like grapes on the vine.

🕵️ How to Spot a Simile:

  • Uses “like” or “as” to draw a comparison
  • Emphasizes an interesting characteristic or creates a vivid description
  • Often used in explanations to help make an unfamiliar idea easier to picture or understand
  • Is an effective way to suggest a feeling or emotion

On the other hand, the word metaphor comes from the Greek verb metapherein, meaning “to transfer.”

In this way, you can think of a metaphor as a phrase that directly transfers meaning without needing to use a “like” or “as.”

Moreover, the prefix meta also comes from Greek. Since it means beyond or after, we usually use it to describe things that are comprehensive or self-contained.

Similarly, a metaphor‘s meaning is completely self-contained in the phrase— it doesn’t need any help from a “like” or an “as” to make its meaning clear.

Her smile is a flash of sunshine on a gray day.
The powdered sugar was a layer of freshly-fallen snow over the cookies.

🕵️ How to Spot a Metaphor:

  • Doesn’t use “like” or “as
  • Compares things that aren’t alike but share some similarities
  • Often dramatic or exaggerated
A woman professor explaining the difference between simile and metaphor. Similes use the words like or as to describe something but metaphors don't. A metaphor compares unlike things without the use of like or as. It takes the form of a direct statement.
Some people find metaphors to be stronger than similes because they make a more direct comparison.

Why use Similes and Metaphors?

We use similes and metaphors because these figures of speech turn ordinary prose into descriptive text that can better capture your reader’s attention. For example, metaphors and similes can evoke emotions like happiness and fear. What’s more, they help describe appearances or personalities in full color and rich detail. Additionally, they help show your unique voice and writing style. Used correctly, a metaphor or simile can help writers create a world and then share it with their audience.

Instead of choosing between a simile vs. metaphor, use them both to flex your creative muscles.

👍 Benefits of Using Similes and Metaphors:

  • Make writing more interesting and engaging to readers
  • Invoke emotion
  • Enrich descriptions with details
  • Explain your ideas more effectively
  • Show your creativity and unique writing style

My favorite quotation also happens to be a metaphor, and I think it sums up this argument nicely:

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”

― Simonides

To create an extended metaphor of my own (more on these later): If words are our paint brushes, then similes and metaphors are our colors and our brush strokes.

What are Examples of Metaphors vs. Similes?

Both metaphors and similes are used to make comparisons. They’re a handy way to help your readers understand your vision of a character, scene, or situation. Metaphors are more direct and use words like “is” and “was” to draw a correlation between two things. Similes use the words “like” and “as” for a more indirect way to make a similar correlation. To truly understand the difference between a simile vs. metaphor, it’s best to look at some examples.

Here are examples of a simile vs. metaphor in a sentence:

Simile: Harry’s as funny as a clown.
Metaphor: Harry’s a clown.
Simile: Vanessa danced like she was floating on air.
Metaphor: Vanessa was floating on air.
Two panels. First panel shows two young man labeled as simile and like doing a high five. Second panel shows a young man and a woman holding hands. The man is labeled metaphor and the woman 'is.'
Both metaphors and similes are figures of speech we use to make comparisons.

What is an Example of a Metaphor in a Sentence?

Here are examples of a metaphor in a sentence:

Tanya is an early bird and always gets up before dawn.
In a play full of ho-hum actors, Winston is a shining star.
All Mr. Roger’s neighbors said he had a heart of gold.
My Grandpa is a bit ornery, but my Grandma is an angel.
My history teacher is a total fox.
It took an army of accountants to straighten out the company’s finances.
My idea may be just a Band-Aid, but at least it will buy us some time.

What is an Example of a Simile in a Sentence?

Here are examples of a simile in a sentence:

When the reporter sensed a good story, he was like a dog with a bone.
He’s as happy as a clam.
Snow White’s lips were as red as a rose.
Barry and Anita love each other, but they fight like cats and dogs.
After such a long day, I know I’m going to sleep like a baby.
Molly forgot her coat and was as cold as a polar bear on a winter day.

Is a Metaphor Stronger Than a Simile?

Some consider a metaphor to be stronger than a simile because it makes a more direct comparison (something is vs. something is like something else). This slight yet important difference can alter the tone and impact of your writing. For example, the metaphor “Paul is a tiger” compares Paul’s animalistic nature to an actual tiger. On the other hand, the simile “Paul is like a tiger” carries the same meaning as “Paul is a tiger” but it feels less emphatic. Mostly, similes and metaphors are as strong as you make them.

A guys showing examples of similes and metaphors.
Similes and metaphors are both figures of speech. A simile makes comparison using like or as. A metaphor makes comparison without using like or as.

Types of Metaphors

There are four main types of metaphors: standard, implied, visual and extended. However, there are other types of metaphors that are best to avoid, such as dead and mixed metaphors.

Types of Metaphors Include:

  • Standard
  • Complex
  • Implied
  • Visual
  • Dead
  • Mixed
  • Extended

Standard

Metaphors can be straightforward comparisons that draw a straight line between two objects. The goal is to use an exaggerated, unrealistic comparison for dramatic effect.

For instance, “Life is a highway.” Clearly life is not a trip down the I-95, but you can understand the author’s intent.

Complex

While metaphors and similes can be complex ways of sharing your ideas with readers, they are not meaningless jargon.

On the contrary, these figures of speech can help you express complex thoughts in a clear, elegant, and creative way.

Notwithstanding, some authors and poets use intentionally complex metaphors. This might be a way to provoke readers to reflect or inspire readers to think in a different way.

Implied

Sometimes metaphors are implied. Rather than say “The captain sounded like a dog,” you might say, “The captain barked orders at his crew.” You never even mention the word dog and yet all your readers know exactly what you’re implying.

Visual

Metaphors can also be much more creative. For example, poets and fiction writers often use visual metaphors to help readers imagine, or visualize, the idea or object the author wants to describe.

For instance, in “Fear,” Sophie Tunnel wrote, “Fear is a slinking cat I find/Beneath the lilacs of my mind.”

Dead

This kind of metaphor is dead because it doesn’t make any sense.

Think about it this way: if metaphors and similes help bring descriptions to life with meaning, dead metaphors do the opposite. They confuse the reader or aren’t clear.

Mixed

Avoid mixing metaphors. Metaphors are a tool that help us express ourselves more clearly, but mixing metaphors can create confusion.

They need to get all of their ducks in a row and start organizing these kids instead of just shuffling them around from room to room.

The above example mixes a metaphor about ducks with an implied one about cards (shuffling). While this metaphor does add detail and color to the author’s point, it also makes the sentence complicated and potentially unclear.

Extended

Lastly, there is the extended metaphor. These literary devices aren’t so much a figure of speech as an entire paragraph or even a page of text that builds a descriptive comparison line by line.

In other words, they extend past the confines of one sentence (much like my metaphor that built on Simonides’ above). What’s more, they may even stretch as far as the length of an entire book, opera, or play.

How do you Turn a Simile Into a Metaphor?

One simple way to turn a simile into a metaphor is to remove “like” or “as.” For example, turn the indirect simile She’s strong as an ox” into the direct metaphor She’s a strong ox” by removing the word “as.” It’s important to note that the transformation is not always this simple. You may need to change the metaphor’s phrasing to make sure you preserve the original simile’s meaning (He roared like a lion/He spoke in a lion’s roar).

📝Remember, we can easily identify similes because they always use “like” or “as” to draw comparisons. Conversely, metaphors never do.

What is a Simile, Metaphor, and Idiom?

There is some overlap between a simile, metaphor, and idiom but there are clear differences. For example, both similes and metaphors draw comparisons. However, similes use “as” or “like” while metaphors don’t. Next, an idiom is a phrase that means something different than what its words literally say. For instance, “raining cats and dogs” means it’s raining hard, not that pets are actually falling from the sky. Idioms are tricky because their meanings are learned rather than deduced.

Simile: The pillow was as hard as a rock.
Metaphor: Laughter is the best medicine.
Idiom: The test was a piece of cake.

Similes vs. metaphors and idioms— it’s important to know what each of these terms mean, but it’s more important to use them. Spice up your writing with a smattering of literary devices, and you may find yourself (and your readers) as happy as a lark.

How Well do you Know the Difference Between a Simile vs. Metaphor?

Simile vs. Metaphor Question #1

____ is a figure of speech that makes a comparison using “like” or “as.”
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is SIMILE. Although metaphors also make a comparison, they don’t use “like” or “as.”

Metaphors Question #2

Which of the following statements is false?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is B. Similes make comparisons using “like” or “as.”

Simile or Metaphor Question #3

Select the correct option. Molly is as busy as a bee.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is SIMILE. Similes are less direct than metaphors and use “as” or “like” to make comparisons.

Metaphor or Simile Question #4

Select the correct option. All the world’s a stage.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is METAPHOR. Metaphors use an exaggerated, unrealistic comparison for dramatic effect.

Simile vs. Metaphor Question #5

Select the correct option. Math is like a puzzle that never ends.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is SIMILE. Similes are less direct than metaphors and use “as” or “like” to make comparisons.

Metaphor Question #6

Which of the following is a type of metaphor?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is D. Other types of metaphors include visual, dead, mixed, and extended.

Simile and Metaphor Question #7

Similes can be transformed into metaphors.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is TRUE. To turn a simile into a metaphor, remove “like” or “as.

Simile vs. Metaphor Quiz Result
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Read More: Sympathy vs. Empathy: the Easiest way to Know the Difference

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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