Simile and Metaphor – How do they differ?

Before directly diving into knowing about simile and metaphor. It is good to have a little knowledge of what is figure of speech.

Simile and Metaphor

We spend our days communicating with people, talking over call, or send a text message. You even listen to a speech or debate. These all are type of communication that rely on language.

Something that makes language unique and memorable is the words and descriptions that people use i.e. figures of speech.

A figure of speech is a word or phrase that is not use in their literal sense. It can be a special repetition of words, omission of words. It can also introduce an ambiguity between literal and interpretation meaning.

For ex – These red poppies are a dime a dozen.  That just means these red poppies are very common.

When you use a figure of speech in writing, you provide a detailed description with making your writing more memorable and vivid. You may have used figures of speech in writing without even realizing it.

The terms metaphor and simile are thrown around as though they implied the very same thing. This section is gone for clearing up probably a portion of the perplexity, if not the whole aggregate of the disarray! As you read on, you’ll realize why these two are so comparable, and how to clearly separate the two. In the first place, have a look at the following examples.

Life is like a box of chocolates. (Simile)

My life is an open book. (Metaphor)

That baby is as cute as a button! (Simile)

Baby, you’re a firework. (Metaphor)

A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes.

Both are used to make comparisons, Both call attention to how two different things are similar, so people listening to you can apply the qualities of one to the other.

The difference between simile and metaphor is the use of words, simile compares the things by using ‘as’ or ‘like’ whereas metaphor directly compares two things. See the above example.

Tip to remember the difference between the two is by remembering that simile has the letter l in it, just like the word “like,” which you often use in a simile.

Let us study each in detail to have a better understanding with examples.


A simile is a type of metaphor where two unlike things are compared using ‘like’ or ‘as’. You can use it to describe a relationship and make your conversation descriptive.

If you wanted to describe food as bland, you could create it more descriptive by writing, ‘The chicken is dry like sawdust.’

Example:  My love is like a red, red rose. — Robert Burns

This simile conveys some of the attributes of a rose to a woman: ruddy complexion, velvety skin, and fragrant scent.


Simile in Literature

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore…
~ Poe


A metaphor is an implied simile. It does not imply like the simile that one thing is like another but acts as the things were one.

A metaphor is a figure of speech where two unlike things are compared. You may use a metaphor to connect with people and make it memorable.

For example, if I was to say, ‘That person has a heart of darkness,’ you would be able to visualize a heart that is black and dark. The description of the person becomes memorable for you. Some other examples of popular metaphors are: ‘a heart of gold,’ ‘bad apple,’ or ‘you reap what you sow.’


The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. — “The Highwayman,” Alfred Noyes

Here the moon is being compared to a sailing ship. The clouds are being compared to ocean waves. This is an apt comparison because sometimes banks of clouds shuttling past the moon cause the moon to appear to be moving and roiling clouds resemble churning water.


Simile vs Metaphor

Sometimes, we will build both a metaphor and a simile from the same parts, showing how incredibly close these two literary devices are. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the word “like” means both “similar” and “the same“.

If a phrase needs further explanation, it’s probably a simile; if it makes sense, it’s likely to be a metaphor. The simile is always poetic, while the metaphor always has the ring of truth.

Basic Rule: If it uses the words “is like” or “is as”, it is usually a simile; if it uses the word “is”, without “as” or “like”, it is usually a metaphor. Caveat: Because there is so much confusion surrounding the difference between metaphor and simile, the two are often misstated. If the word “like” is used to imply similarity, then it is a simile; however, if the word “like” is being used to imply it is “the same“, then this is a false simile and is, in fact a metaphor.

Simile:     ABC is approximately equal to XYZ;

Example: “clouds like cotton candy”

“Cloud” = ABC…= White Light Gaseous;

“Cotton Candy” = XYZ…=White Light Soft

Gaseous is not equal to soft. However, they are similar in their accommodating nature. Though clouds may look like cotton candy, their functions within their respective domains are entirely different. Truthfully, the clouds are not like cotton candy, but they leave a passing impression that they are.

A simile is almost always based on our first impressions, which is why the comparison drawn in a simile is always limited.

Metaphor:   ABC equals XYZ; A=X, B=Y, C=Z ;

Example: “A car is a cell”

“Car” = ABC…= Shell Doors Wheels;

“Cell” = XYZ… = Wall Pores Cilia***


A car is equal to a cell. Both protect and transport their passengers, and allow material and passengers in and out. Both breathe, pollute and need energy to function. Their functions within their respective domains are identical. This means that many of the relationships found in one domain will be found in the other, which is why an equation formed in a metaphor is always expandable.

A short list of distinguishing characteristics:

  • From the two, simile is easier to spot than metaphor.
  • Similes make use of comparison words like ‘as and like’ whereas metaphor is conspicuous by their absence.
  • Metaphors are of many types and similes are just one of these types.
  • Metaphor is a direct comparison whereas simile is an approximation.

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