What is the Difference Between a Metaphor and Simile?

wiseGEEK Writer

The differences between a metaphor and simile can easily confuse people. It’s handy to understand how these two figures of speech differ, so that you can easily recognize one or the other when you encounter them in common speech, any type of writing and most especially literature. It can be said that the simile is much simpler than the metaphor. Actually the metaphor has numerous types, while the simile is a very straightforward comparison.

"His love is like a red rose," is an example of a simile.
"His love is like a red rose," is an example of a simile.

When you think of the word simile, think of the concept of “similar to,” when you’re making a comparison. You will almost always notice that this type of comparison is preceded by the words like or as. Here are a couple simile examples:

The phrase "Blind as a bat," is a simile because it uses the word 'as'.
The phrase "Blind as a bat," is a simile because it uses the word 'as'.

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He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night.
Homer

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.
Charles Dickens

Once you’re awake to similes, you’ll find them virtually everywhere. Things like “as easy as pie,” “or as blind as a bat” stand out. Even a child’s lullaby like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” states that the star is “like a diamond in the sky.

The metaphor is frequently used too, but unlike the simile the comparison is direct. The metaphor is not “like” or “as” the thing to which it is compared, it is the thing. Consider these following examples:

Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.
Barbara Tuchman

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.
Mortimer Adler

The Tuchman quote uses numerous metaphors. In her words, books are not like the carriers of civilization, they are the carriers. She further extends her metaphor by comparing history to voices, literature to thought, and science to physical progress. Each of these things is hindered, in her view, without books.

Sometimes metaphors are not so direct. Authors may use extended metaphors in a symbolic manner without ever referring specifically to the thing the metaphor is meant to symbolize. In the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, Aslan is an extended metaphor for Christ, though this is never specifically stated. The symbol is there, and Aslan is very clearly Christ.

Simpler examples of the metaphor are in common daily use. You might state that your heart aches if you break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. This is symbolic of your sadness, but not truly a heart that aches. You could alternately turn this into a simile by saying, “My heart feels like it aches.”

Essentially the main points to remember about metaphor and simile are the following:

  • Similes always compare using works such as “like” and “as”
  • Metaphors are direct comparisons between two objects
  • Metaphors do not have to even refer to the object to they’re being compared but can be used in symbolic and extended fashion
  • Both are common in everyday language, literature, and music
Charles Dickens offered the famous simile, "Old Marley was as dead as a doornail."
Charles Dickens offered the famous simile, "Old Marley was as dead as a doornail."

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Discussion Comments

anon98468

Thanks a lot. Cleared my confusion.

anon70394

thanks. i found this to be an excellent answer to my question.

anon31627

I found this to be an excellent explanation of the difference between metaphors and similes.

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