Simile vs. Metaphor: Differences & Examples

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Similes and metaphors are both useful for making writing more interesting and descriptive, but it is important to be able to tell the difference between the two. This lesson explains the difference between similes and metaphors and offers some examples.

Introduction to Similes and Metaphors

Let's face it, bland text is boring. 'The dog ran fast' can only be made interesting so many ways. Sure, you could add adjectives or adverbs, or maybe change it up a bit with different synonyms. You might end up with something like 'The amber-furred canine swiftly sprinted'. However, while that paints an image in your readers' minds, you may want something a bit more direct. Maybe you think that whatever it is you're describing is similar, or even like, something else. In that instance, you can use similes and metaphors. However, the two terms describe two different ideas, as this lesson will show.

What is a Simile?

A simile allows you to make a direct comparison between the thing you are describing by comparing it with words like 'such as' or 'like'. This can help add significant depth to your writing. When you use a simile, you force your reader to, for a split second, picture the comparison in their mind, then substitute in whatever is happening. If I said that the dog ran like a cheetah, you first have to make a mental image of how a cheetah runs, and then you apply that action to the dog in question.

In his Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allen Poe uses one of the most famous similes in history. As the Red Death takes its toll on all the party goers, Poe says that the Red Death had arrived like a thief in the night. Many other people have used this simile because of the mental image it provides.

However, you don't have to look to literature to find a simile. They are scattered all over popular songs. Take this simile from One Direction's Story of my Life:

'But baby running after you is like chasing the clouds'.

See, everyone uses similes.

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