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May 12, 2024

Metaphor vs. Simile: What’s the Difference? (+ Examples)

 Metaphor vs. Simile: What’s the Difference? (+ Examples)

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Metaphors and similes are figures of speech that compare two unlike things. You’ve probably encountered countless examples across film, literature, advertising, and even everyday conversation.

But just like two different shades of the same color, the difference between a metaphor and simile is subtle. You might not be able to tell them apart at first.

Luckily, as a journalist and professional writer with a knack for grammar, I know all the best tricks for doing just that.

In this article, I’ll define and provide examples of both and show you how you can start using metaphors and similes to make your writing stronger and more engaging.

What’s a metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” 

On a sentence level, metaphors help readers understand complex ideas by equating them with something familiar — like equating the hurtful effect of words to a knife in the metaphor, “Her insult was a dagger to my heart.”

Metaphors can also be used more broadly as a symbol. For example, many artistic works serve as metaphors for a larger societal issue, like racism in the psychological horror film Get Out.  

Examples of metaphors

Check out the following examples to see metaphors in action:  

In music:

“Baby, you're a firework / Come on, let your colors burst.” — “Firework” by Katy Perry

Explanation: By directly comparing the listener to a firework, Perry conveys that they display the same dazzling brilliance and awe-inspiring beauty. 

In film:

“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” Titanic 

Explanation: This quote uses emotional language to show that a woman’s feelings are oceanic: vast, mysterious, and containing more than what the surface suggests. 

What’s a simile?

A simile is a figure of speech that indirectly compares two unlike things using “like” or “as.” It’s also a type of metaphor. (However, although all similes are metaphors, not all metaphors are similes.)  

Additionally, similes can emphasize qualities by likening one thing to a common object that shares and embodies a specific characteristic. 

For instance, saying that “news of her marriage spread like wildfire” likens the quickness of traveling news to the swiftness of spreading fire. 

You can use similes to add color and texture to your descriptions of people or characters, places, and things. For example, you might say a hot-tempered individual is “as explosive as a firecracker” or that a city’s skyscrapers “towered over residents like glass giants.” 

Examples of similes

Here are a couple more examples of similes:

In fiction:

“His smile was as stiff as a frozen fish.” — Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Explanation: Comparing the character’s smile to a frozen fish lets readers know that the character’s expression is rigid.

In advertising:

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” — State Farm commercial 

Explanation: This simile invites the audience to trust and depend on State Farm, an insurance company, like they do their neighbors. 

What’s the difference between a metaphor and simile? 

The main difference is that similes use “like” or “as” and metaphors don’t. 

However, not all sentences that use “like” or “as” are similes. You have to compare two things first. 

For example:

❌ “She ran for cover as the rain fell”

This doesn’t qualify as a simile because the sentence doesn’t use “as” to make a comparison. The use of “as” here indicates that two things happened simultaneously: the person ran, and the rain fell. 

✅ “She ran like the wind as the rain fell”

This sentence does make a comparison. It uses “like” to compare the person’s running to the wind — both being speedy.

Metaphors and similes also differ in function. 

People commonly use metaphors to make an abstract idea more concrete. Consider the phrase, “Your body is a temple.” It makes the idea that people should properly care for their bodies more understandable by comparing it to something people consider sacred.

Meanwhile, similes are more decorative. When used sparingly, they can elevate your descriptions and make your writing more engaging by drawing unique comparisons. For example, saying a ballerina “flitted across the stage like a fairy” enchants the reader more than simply saying the ballerina “danced across the stage.” 

Though they have differences, both metaphors and similes can enrich your writing and help you develop a distinct writing style

How to tell the difference between a metaphor and simile 

Read our tips below to help you distinguish between metaphors and similes.

Tip #1 - Study the structure 

Metaphors employ an “X is Y” structure, while similes follow an “X is like Y” or “X is as [adjective] as Y” pattern. 

In other words, metaphors say that one thing is something else, and similes say that one thing is like something else. 

To illustrate: 

Metaphor: Time is a thief. 
Simile: Time is like a thief.

Tip #2 - Check for substitution 

Metaphors often substitute, or replace, one thing for another to show that those things are equivalent. Similes, however, use connecting words to suggest a similarity between two things. 

For example: 

Metaphor: The new grad’s life was a blank canvas. (Substitution)

In this example, the metaphor substitutes “the new grad’s life” for a “blank canvas” to show that they’re similar.

Now, let’s look at the same sentence rewritten as a simile: 

Simile: The new grad’s life was like a blank canvas. (No substitution) 

Without substitution, the simile indicates that the two objects are like each other, but they’re not an exact replacement for each other. 

Tip #3 - Look for explicit vs. implicit comparisons 

Similes draw a weaker connection between two different objects than metaphors, but their comparisons are often more explicit or obvious. Consider the following example: 

Simile: Like a snake, the con artist slithered toward the unsuspecting tourist.

In this example, the simile explicitly likens the con artist to a snake. 

Metaphors, on the other hand, can be more implied. This means that metaphors sometimes make a comparison without directly stating it. That’s the case here:

Metaphor: The con artist slithered toward the unsuspecting tourist.

The metaphor doesn’t directly say the con artist is a snake. Instead, the metaphor suggests this through “slithered,” making readers think of snakes. 

When to use a metaphor vs. simile

Now that you know the differences between metaphors and similes, let’s discuss when to use them in your writing. 

You’ll want to use a metaphor if you’re aiming for either of three qualities:

  • Strength. Metaphors make a stronger comparison because they equate one object with another. This allows you to compare things confidently instead of just noting their likeness. For example: “Grief is a thunderstorm — a rumble of anger mixed with a downpour of tears.”
  • Scope. Metaphors can span many sentences or run the length of a book, film, or other work. You can use them as a unifying motif that connects various elements of your story or argument. For example, in a short story, you might use a building’s structure as a metaphor for a family’s dynamic: the foundation is their history, the floors are the different family members and roles, and the roof represents their shared values.
  • Subtlety. Metaphors can also be more subtle and nuanced than similes because they hint at deeper ideas without stating them directly. Think about one of William Shakespeare’s famous lines: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Comparing the world to a stage encourages the reader to see people as actors performing the roles they hold in their lives. 

Conversely, you should use a simile if you want to achieve either of two goals: 

  • Efficiency. Similes occur at the sentence level, meaning they don’t go beyond a single sentence. This means you can get your point across quickly. For instance, say you want to make a quick, uncomplicated comparison between a baby and a blowfish. Similes would be great for this. You might write, “The baby’s cheeks were as big as a blowfish’s.” 
  • Clarity. Because similes are straightforward, readers can more easily understand the comparison being made. For example, the simile “her eyes were as bright as stars” clearly outlines what’s being compared (her eyes and the stars) and the specific point of comparison (their shared brightness). 

When to avoid metaphors and similes

As a rule of thumb, avoid using metaphors and similes when they create confusion.

Let’s say you’re describing a character’s pounding heart, but you compare the sound to skittering insects — e.g., “The beating of his heart sounded like scurrying cockroaches.” This puzzles the reader because they expect a pounding heart to be compared to something else that beats loudly, like the sound of a drum.

Additionally, avoid metaphors and similes if they’re clichéd. For instance, saying that a nice person is “as sweet as a peach” doesn’t captivate the reader because the simile lacks originality.

Instead, practice creating original expressions by doing writing exercises such as crafting metaphor lists and responding to writing prompts.

AI tip: Wordtune’s Editor can help you rewrite your metaphors and similes to convey ideas more effectively.


Distinguishing between metaphors and similes can be challenging, but with this guide, you can spot the differences many people miss. 

Remember that metaphors directly compare two things, while similes use connecting words to indirectly compare two things. 

You can use a metaphor to clarify a complex idea or add subtlety to your comparison. Conversely, a simile is handy when you want to enhance your descriptions. Both can help readers better understand the idea you’re trying to convey, so try them out in your writing!

For more writing tips, check out our articles on the best writing books and how to master grammar and punctuation


What are similes and metaphors called?

Similes and metaphors are types of figurative language. They use words in creative, nonliteral ways to convey a meaning or message — specifically to compare two unlike things.

What’s the difference between a simile and an analogy?

A simile compares two things using “like" or “as”' to evoke an image or highlight a shared quality — e.g., “The teacher watched the students like a hawk.”  

Meanwhile, an analogy likens one thing to another to make a broader point. For example: “Life is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.”