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What is a Simile?

If you’ve seen Forrest Gump, then you know the iconic simile: “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” We’ll use this example to explain exactly what it is.

First, a simile is a phrase that describes something using a comparison. In the quote above, “life” is described as being similar to “a box of chocolates.” Similes typically use the words like or as to compare one thing to another.

Although they are similar to metaphors, the two literary devices are not the same thing. Similes are a great tool for public speakers, authors, and those who want to make their writing as exciting as a spontaneous fireworks show.

What is a Simile?

A simile (pronounced SIM-uh-lee) is a type of figurative language. It describes something by making a comparison to something else, using the words like or as. 

You’ve probably come across plenty of them before. Here are a few examples:

  • I knew it like the back of my hand.
  • The twins are as different as day and night.
  • She stood out like a sore thumb.
  • The solution is clear as mud.
  • Grandma’s memory is like a sieve.
  • That spider is dead as a doornail.

Remember, the word simile sounds much like the word similar. Similes compare things that are similar, using the words like or as.

More Examples

Similes are a great way to make your writing more colorful and interesting! Here are a few examples.

  • Her beauty hangs upon the night’s cheek like a rich jewel.
  • I felt as lonely as a floating cloud.
  • A deferred dream can dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore.

Here is a list of well-known similes that could be heard often in everyday speech:

  • as busy as a bee
  • as blind as a bat
  • as strong as an ox
  • as easy as shooting fish in a barrel
  • slept like a log
  • as easy as taking candy from a baby
  • stand out like a sore thumb
  • as cold as ice
  • as hard as nails
  • as innocent as a lamb
  • as sweet as sugar
  • as smart as a fox
  • as white as a ghost

In Writing

The examples above are based on notable poetic creations by the likes of William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Langston Hughes. But you can also use similes in everyday writing. Just compare these sentences with and without similes:

  • Sharon walked across the room with a sense of purpose.
  • Sharon moved across the room like a warrior entering a battle.

While the first sentence is pretty bland, the second one gives the reader a much clearer mental image. It characterizes Sharon as a much more imposing figure and hints that she may have a plan of attack. 

Simile vs. Metaphor

Related: What is metaphor? Definition and Examples.

Both of these literary devices are both employed to make comparisons and clarify concepts, but they are not the same thing. Similes utilize the words like or as to form comparisons. Meanwhile, metaphors state that one thing is another thing, making a much more direct comparison. It’s crucial to know the difference between these two forms of figurative language. Here are a few examples:

Simile: Life is like a garden; you reap what you sow.

Metaphor: She’s an open book.

Simile: The infant is as cute as a button. 

Metaphor: You’re a real firework.

Since they both make figurative comparisons, all similes are considered a form of metaphor, but not all metaphors are considered similes. The main difference to remember is that similes utilize the words like or as.

Explanation of what is a simile: graphic comparing simile to a metaphor

Similes and Exaggeration

Similes often use exaggeration, also referred to as hyperbole.

  • She runs as fast as lightning strikes.
  • He’s as sweet as honey.
  • They sing like angels.

Since they focus on a specific aspect of a comparison, they prevent hyperbolic statements from sounding too exaggerated. Check out these sentences, for instance:

  • He’s a mean snake.
  • He’s as mean as a snake.

The first example is a metaphor, but it comes off very blunt and can even seem childish or clumsy. However, the second version is a simile that emphasizes the particular trait that the person shares with snakes: meanness.

If you’re looking to add interest and imagery to your writing, figurative language is a great way to do so. Next time you’re struggling to write a description with the perfect phrasing, try coming up with a simile that fits like a glove. And to get you started, here are some more examples from literature to get you inspired:

Learning what is a simile: examples of similes from literature

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By Jessica Allen

Jessica is a full-time freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish.

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