Grammar Similes and Metaphors |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Similes and Metaphors

Simile
A form of expression using “like” or “as,” in which one thing is compared to another which it only resembles in one or a small number of ways.

Example: Her hair was like silk.

Metaphor

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison.

Example
: He’s a tiger when he’s angry.

From the Manbottle Library:
Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual similes and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are one year’s winners:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a ThighMaster.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

22 responses to “Similes and Metaphors”

  1. J Sherer says:

    Isn’t a simile technically just a form of metaphor rather than being something completely different?

  2. Jane says:

    Yes. A simile is actually a type of metaphor using “like” or “as.”

  3. Walt C. says:

    I disagree. Both similes and metaphors are forms of analogy, but different from one another. To say “My love is a red rose” is different from saying that she’s “like a red rose.” To say “The passage was as dark as the inside of a cow.” is different from saying “The passage was the inside of a cow” On the other hand, I’ll grant you the interchangeabilty of “We’re ships that pass in the night” and “We’re like ships that pass in the night.” Bottom line answer: sometimes it is, sometimes– in fact, most times– it isn’t.

  4. Jane says:

    I can see your point, Walt. Thanks.

  5. Hayley says:

    1. Her heart was like a lion, big & strong

    • Your sentence is an example of a simile. A period should be placed at the end of the sentence. Also, in formal writing, do not use an ampersand (&) in place of the word and.

  6. saji says:

    Good efffort. More examples on similies and metaphors would benefit the foreign students.

    • Thank you for the suggestion.

      Simile examples:
      She sings like an angel.
      He runs like a gazelle.
      This meat is as dry as a bone.

      Metaphor examples:
      His brother is an Einstein.
      Your room is a pigpen.
      She is a walking dictionary.

  7. A/B student says:

    Reflections of M. C. Escher
    Have you ever seen something that felt as though it had almost literally reached off the page and grabbed you? This sensation describes in a phrase the feeling that the graphic works of M. C. Escher have always given me.

    *These are the introductory sentences for my 1500 word, graphic designer research paper.
    *I am inclined to put quotation marks before “reached… [and after] …you?”
    *Also to set of the prepositional phrase in my second sentence with commas like so: ,in a phrase,
    *I definitely do not want to start my paper of with improper punctuation or grammar.
    *I want to continue being an A+ student and feel as though making this initial critical mistake could be the difference between an A+ or B- grade.
    *Can anyone help me with proper punctuation, or if it is even necessary?
    *I am doing my final revisions and hope to submit my paper yet today.
    *I could not find these answers in my MLA 7th ed. Handbook either.

    • We recommend you replace “almost literally” in your first sentence with “virtually.” (See our recent grammar tip Fighting for Literally.) No quotation marks are needed in the sentence. Whether you set off “in a phrase” with commas depends on whether you consider the phrase essential or nonessential.

  8. BronnyG says:

    Would this be considered a metaphor?
    “Facts in his eyes are over, a relic from the age of the printing press.”
    There is no “is” but would the comma act as one?

  9. ROSA FIGUEROA says:

    If the sentence said:
    Mark in his work is “as straight as an arrow.”
    This sentence is a simile or metaphor?

    • As the post states, a simile is “… a form of expression using ‘like’ or ‘as,’ in which one thing is compared to another which it only resembles in one or a small number of ways.” Since your sentence uses as in the comparison, it is a simile.

  10. B. Koobram says:

    Number 8 is clever, especially given the set up. The writer may have unintentionally described the result of Alzheimer’s disease.

    • That’s an interesting slant on it that had not occurred to us, and, as you mention, it was unlikely the person who wrote No. 8 intended it in that way. The tragedy of Alzheimer’s, or dementia in general, encompasses so much more than a mind closed and set in its ways.

  11. Sandra M. says:

    Today you made me laugh! Excellent newsletter.

  12. John C. says:

    Thank you. That was very amusing. I have not smiled so much for a long time. In fact, my smile was so wide that, had I not had ears, my smile would have stretched right around my head and would have met on the top of my scalp!

  13. Priya Saxena says:

    Can similes also show comparison using words like “as if” or “as though” instead of like or as?
    Can phrases like “pink-faced determination.” “lantern-shaped,” “heart- shaped,” “ballerina-like” be considered as metaphors?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      A key to distinguishing a simile from a metaphor is to remember that a simile is a direct (literal) comparison and a metaphor is a suggested or figurative one.

      While “as if” and “as though” might seem to identify a simile because they include “as,” they are actually conjunctions that signal dependent subjunctive clauses. Compare the following two sentences:

      The running back slashes through opposing defenses like a shark fin through water.
      The running back slashes through opposing defenses as if he were a shark fin cutting through water.

      In the first sentence, we are making a direct comparison to create an image. In the second sentence, we are describing an imagined or unreal scenario, which is why we use the subjunctive verb were instead of was.

      To learn more about the subjunctive mood, you can review our post Subjunctive Mood: What Is the Subjunctive Mood?

      The examples you cite (pink-faced determination, lantern-shaped, heart-shaped, ballerina-like) are descriptions that help in forming a mental image, but they are not metaphors. A metaphor is a figurative (nonliteral) reference or comparison as opposed to a description. Some examples are black sheep, elephant in the room, and angel in disguise. You might notice that your examples are adjectives and ours are noun phrases.

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