Simile Definition

A simile is a figure of speech in which two essentially dissimilar objects or concepts are expressly compared with one another through the use of “like” or “as.” Simile is used as a literary device to assert similarity with the help of like or as, which are language constructs that establish equivalency. A proper simile creates an explicit comparison between two things that are different enough from each other such that their comparability appears unlikely.

For example, the statement “this poem is like a punch in the gut” features a simile. The poem is being explicitly compared to a “punch in the gut” with the word “like.” This is an effective simile in that a poem is not at all similar to a punch in literal terms. However, figuratively, the simile’s comparison and association between these two things establishes that the impact of the poem on the speaker has the force of and feels similar to a punch in the gut.

Common Examples of Simile

There are many common examples of simile used in everyday conversation and writing. Here are some well-known phrases that utilize this figure of speech:

  • Nutty as a fruitcake
  • Slept like a log
  • Sly as a fox
  • Fits like a glove
  • Cool as a cucumber
  • Blind as a bat
  • Light as a feather
  • Like watching paint dry
  • Works like a charm
  • Old as the hills
  • Pretty as a picture
  • Hurts like the devil
  • Strong as an ox
  • Fight like cats and dogs
  • Sparkle like diamonds
  • Cheeks like roses
  • Flat as a pancake
  • Eyes like glass
  • Sweet as sugar
  • Dull as a doorknob
  • Bright as the sun
  • Tough as nails
  • Smart as a whip
  • Mad as a hatter
  • Happy as a clam

Examples of Similes for Love

One of the most common concepts to feature simile as a literary device is love. Here are some memorable lines and quotes that showcase simile as an effective comparison for describing love:

  • Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop. (H.L. Mencken)
  • Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit. (Khalil Gibran)
  • Love is like a friendship caught on fire. (Bruce Lee)
  • Love is like a faucet; it turns off and on. (Billie Holiday)
  • And she said losing love is like a window in your heart; everybody sees you’re blown apart; everybody sees the wind blow (Paul Simon)
  • Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. (Oscar Wilde)
  • Love is like the wild rose-briar (Emily Bronte)
  • Falling out of love is like losing weight. It’s a lot easier putting it on than taking it off. (Aretha Franklin)
  • Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same. (Helen Keller)
  • Love is like the measles. The older you get it, the worse the attack. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Famous Examples of Simile

Simile is also found in many famous examples of poetry, prosedrama, lyrics, and even clever quotations. Here are some famous examples of simile:

  • Easy Like Sunday Morning (Lionel Richie)
  • All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain. (Blade Runner)
  • Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. (Albert Einstein)
  • That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereal based on color instead of taste. (John Green)
  • Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. (Anne Lamott)
  • Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. (E.L. Doctorow)
  • Parents are like God because you wanna know they’re out there, and you want them to think well of you, but you really only call when you need something. (Chuck Palahniuk)
  • Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on. (Jonathan Safran Foer)
  • Being with her I feel a pain, like a frozen knife stuck in my chest. (Haruki Murakami)
  • Her hair, like golden threads, play’d with her breath. (William Shakespeare)
  • Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
  • You, just like heaven. (The Cure)
  • Life is like writing with a pen. You can cross out your past but you can’t erase it. (E.B. White)
  • The pain is like an axe that chops my heart. (Yann Martel)
  • We are like roses that have never bothered to bloom when we should have bloomed and it is as if the sun has become disgusted with waiting. (Charles Bukowski)

Difference Between Simile and Metaphor

Some may find it difficult to differentiate between simile  and metaphor as literary devices since both are figures of speech designed to create meaning through comparisons. Simile is actually a subset of metaphor and is distinguished by the presence of one of two words: “like” and “as.” Metaphors create direct comparisons without using either of these words, whereas similes feature either like or as in making a comparison.

The following lyrics from a song featured in Walt Disney’s “Bambi” is an example that illustrates the difference between simile and metaphor:

Love is a song that never ends
One simple theme repeating
Like the voice of a heavenly choir
Love’s sweet music flows on

The first two lines feature a metaphor. Love is directly compared to a “song that never ends.” Though love and a song are seemingly unlike entities, the metaphor connects them such that the comparison makes sense to the audience. By linking love to a song that never ends, the metaphor enhances the meaning and audience understanding of love as a concept.

The last two lines of these lyrics feature a simile. The way “love’s sweet music” flows is compared to the “voice of a heavenly choir.” The previous metaphor has established love as a song. Therefore, the simile advances this meaning by comparing love’s music to a choir voice. Rather than stating that love’s music is a choir voice and creating another metaphor, the simile indicates that love’s music is like a choir voice. The simile enhances the imagery and audience understanding of love, established by the metaphor, with further use of figurative language.

Writing Simile

Overall, as a literary device, simile functions as a means of creating an equivalent comparison or establishing similarity between two seemingly different things. This is an effective figure of speech for readers in that simile can create an association between two dissimilar entities or ideas that illuminate each other and enhance the meaning of both. Simile is an essential literary device for writers of both poetry and prose.

It’s important that writers construct proper similes so that the comparative meaning is not lost for the reader. In fact, like metaphors, similes are dependent on the understandable combination of a principal term and a secondary term. The principal term conveys the literal entity to be described, and the secondary term is used figuratively to add meaning. For example, in the simile “the cat’s fur felt smooth as silk,” the principal term is “cat’s fur” and the secondary term is “silk.” By comparing the smooth feel of the cat’s fur to the feel of silk, the reader’s understanding of the texture of both things is enhanced through figurative language.

Here are some ways that writers benefit from incorporating simile into their work:

Create Imagery

Similes allow writers to create imagery for readers through figurative language that might otherwise be limited by just descriptive language. In other words, an effective simile eliminates the need for excessive explanation or description on the part of the writer. Instead, by creating similarity through comparing two different things, an image is created for the reader to allow for greater meaning and understanding. This imagery is a powerful result of using simile as a literary device.

Generate Thought and Emotion

When writers utilize simile as a literary device, it generates thought on the part of the reader regarding the “logic” or truth in such a comparison. These thoughts, in turn, can evoke emotion in the reader through the realization that the comparison is valid and reflects a level of truth they may not have understood before. Similes are especially effective in poetry as a means of portraying truths in a lyrical yet concise manner.

Examples of Simile in Literature

Simile is a very effective and widely used literary device. Here are some examples of simile and how it adds to the significance of literary works:

Example 1: Horseradish (Lemony Snicket)

A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.

Lemony Snicket is well-known for his brilliant use of simile as a means of describing concepts, especially for children. In this line, he demonstrates not only the power of simile as a comparison between a library and an island with figurative language, but he also invokes a literal image of a library as an island. This reinforces the significance of a library as a refuge and protective haven against ignorance and other potentially destructive forces.

Example 2: A Red, Red Rose (Robert Burns)

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

In this stanza, the poet compares the person he loves both to a rose and melody. In poetry, the concept of love is often compared to a rose and/or a song. However, in this poem, Burns enhances those similes by comparing his “Luve,” an actual person rather than an abstract concept, to a rose and a song. This allows the reader to understand that the poet views the person he loves as a symbol of love itself.

Example 3: Spring is like a perhaps hand (e.e. cummings)

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

Spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

In this poem, Cummings creates an unusual simile in that the literary device compares dissimilar things in a tentative way. Most poets utilize simile as a means of asserting similarities through comparisons. However, by comparing Spring to a “perhaps” hand, the poet leaves a sense of the indefinite, and creates less of an absolute assertion of the association between Spring and a hand.

However, rather than being weak or ineffective, this “approximate” simile reinforces the meaning and imagery of the poem itself. The poem’s theme is that the changes brought about by Spring are so gentle and subtle that they are nearly unnoticeable as they are happening. Therefore, the comparison to a “perhaps” hand invokes the association between Spring and something that is all but unseen, and therefore elusive or ephemeral.