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What is a Simile?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 23, 2024
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A simile is a figure of speech consisting of a comparison using like or as. Well-chosen ones can be used to enliven writing or as an alternative to description using adjectives, for example. Some refer to a universal, or nearly so, quality or attribute of the object of comparison.

Examples include the following:

     As white as snow
     As old as the hills

It is also possible for these figures of speech to refer to a characteristic that is possible but not necessary:

     As high as a kite

Kites are not always being flown, so they are not always high, but flying is what kites are made for and being "up in the sky" is closely associated with them. Even though they are not quite as obvious, such similes are readily understood.

Similes can also be sarcastic:

     As clear as mud.

This is not intended to be understood in a straightforward way; it means, in fact, the opposite of what it says.

Some comparisons expressed this way tend toward the figurative:

     As dead as a doornail

has been explained in several different ways: as deriving from the practice of bending back doornails so that they could not be salvaged, or possibly from the use of doornails as early doorknockers, dead to the "abuse" they received as they were knocked. In any case, doornails are not literally dead, having never actually been alive.

Another figurative use is the following:

     As dead as a dodo

because, technically, dodos aren’t dead, but extinct.

Alliteration may play a role in these as well, because a pattern can certainly be seen:

     As clear as crystal
     As dry as dust
     As busy as a bee
     As proud as a peacock
     As pleased as Punch
     As large as life
     As pretty as a picture
     As cool as a cucumber
     As dull as dishwater
     As hot as hell
     As fit as a fiddle
     As slow as a snail

Similes start off as fresh, interesting language, but like any other phrase, when too often repeated, they become clichés. Most of the color comparisons and animal comparisons have lost their verve, for example. Instead of brightening up language, they now make it boring. It’s not enough to sprinkle one’s language with these figures of speech to enliven it — it’s also necessary to choose well.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for Language & Humanities, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By anon156749 — On Feb 28, 2011

simile and metaphors are easy to learn!

By anon151121 — On Feb 09, 2011

Thank you so much. I had a project due tomorrow but i didn't know what a metaphor was! Now I know and thanks to you I probably will get an A+.

By anon143513 — On Jan 16, 2011

the only thing that would improve this website is the mention of simile-cliches. those seem to pop up in most curriculums. Thank you so much for this. My kids needed this help!

By anon141737 — On Jan 11, 2011

thanks for the help. now i know what simile is.

at first i thought it's so hard but now i know that it's just easy to understand. thanks again.

By anon90726 — On Jun 17, 2010

Thank you for your help. it really worked and I understand it as clear as crystal!

By anon79862 — On Apr 25, 2010

this has really helped with my revision! i will come to this website more often and it will remind me of what a simile is. "It's as clear as mud."

By anon77864 — On Apr 15, 2010

i get it! its so simple, my english teacher made it sound so complicated! -TwiLove

By anon77831 — On Apr 15, 2010

So for example, this is a simile: My sister is as fat as a water buffalo.

By anon72626 — On Mar 23, 2010

Oh! Now I get it. A simile is a comparison that uses like or as in the phrase. And it is the opposite of a metaphor! -randomkayla

By anon61712 — On Jan 21, 2010

Oh! So a simile has like or as in it.

By anon38824 — On Jul 28, 2009

What is the effect of the simile used in the following sentence?

"like the angel of death"

By anon37145 — On Jul 17, 2009

opposite of metaphor

By averagejoe — On Mar 03, 2008

Similes are often considered in conjunction with, or perhaps more commonly, confused with, another type of figurative language: metaphors. Similes use like or as while metaphors just describe the thing as if it were something else (e.g., her hair is silk). But if you were to say her hair was _like_ silk, that'd be a simile. To remember, you just have to drill it in your head...simile - like - as....

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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