by Craig Shrives

What Is a Simile? (with Examples)

A simile is a figure of speech that likens one thing to another (usually by using the word like or as).
simile definition

Formal Definition

A simile is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g. as brave as a lion ). (Oxford Dictionary)

Easy Examples of Similes

Here are some easy examples of similes:
  • I am as poor as a church mouse.
  • He is hungry like a wolf.
  • She sings like an angel.
  • His woollen scarf hung around his neck like a dead skunk.
  • He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Examples of Famous Similes

Here are some similes by famous people:
  • A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC - 43 BC)
  • Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. (Credited to English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello)

Examples of Funny Similes

Here are some funny similes:
  • He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  • Duct tape is like the force — it has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. (Carl Zwanzig)
  • Dealing with network executives is like being nibbled to death by ducks. (Eric Sevareid)
  • I'm as pure as the driven slush. (Tallulah Bankhead, 1903-1968)
  • His teeth looked like an unkempt picket fence.
  • He rolled out of bed like a fruit fly stuck in honey.
  • Her vocabulary was like, yeah, whatever.

Similes Contrast with Metaphors

Similes contrast with metaphors. A metaphor asserts that one thing is something that it literally is not. Here are some examples of similes alongside similar-looking metaphors.
John is like a weasel.
(something is like something else)
John is a weasel.
(something is something else)
Her focus was like a laser.
(something is like something else)
Her focus was a laser.
(something is something else)
Her laser-like focus fixed on her rivals.
(something is like something else)
Her laser eyes fixed on her rivals.
(Metaphors can also be created by using non-literal words.)
Read more about metaphors. Here is a short video summarizing this page on similes.
Here are two good reasons to care about similes.

(Reason 1) A simile can be a great way to explain or promote an idea.

Similes are used to create mental pictures that will help your readers grasp your idea with the same clarity as you. They are far more common in creative writing than business writing, but they have utility in both.

Used sparingly in business writing, similes can be memorable and impactful, and using one can make you look confident. They can also be used to clarify your stance on an issue.
  • "Plan A would be like throwing the pilot out of a stricken aircraft to make it lighter."
  • (Plan A might be complex, but this simile makes it clear you think Plan A is counter-productive.)
Even if you're not convinced of ability of similes to make your message more impactful, you might want to use one occasionally just to make your text more engaging. That idea is captured in this quotation.
  • Similes prove nothing, but yet they greatly lighten and relieve the tedium of argument. (Poet Robert South)

(Reason 2) A tired simile can sink you.

Be mindful, however, that overusing similes in business writing can portray you as flippant or dull (especially if they're cliches, i.e., tired similes). The following quotation captures the risk of using an old simile:
  • "The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot." (Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali)

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