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How to Spice Up your Writing with Similes and Metaphors

Updated on November 26, 2012
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Variety is the spice of life
Variety is the spice of life | Source

We all use similes and metaphors every single day. They help us explain how we feel, make a point and add some color to our language.

Have you ever felt as hungry as a horse? Or been so tired you slept like a baby? Or noticed how time flies like an arrow? These are all examples of similes, comparisons made between two objects by using "like" or "as" to show a connection.

Likewise, you've probably heard it said that time is money, or that life is a roller coaster, or that someone had a heart of stone. These are all metaphors, comparisons made between two objects in a more direct fashion without the use of the words "like" or "as."

Similes and metaphors are examples of figurative language. You'll find them everywhere you look, in poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction and song lyrics. They add an extra layer of meaning to what's being said, sung or written about, in the same way that the right combination of herbs and spices can lift an ordinary meal to extraordinary gastronomic heights.

What is the Difference between a Simile and Metaphor?

Similes and metaphors are both used to make comparisons between two different objects, but one does this directly (metaphor) while the other does this indirectly (simile).

For example, let's take the words "voice" and "thunder". To describe someone whose voice booms out and sends shivers down your spine, you might write:

"His voice was like thunder echoing through my very being."

That's a simile, because you're saying his voice was like thunder. It resembles some of the qualities of thunder, but it's not exactly the same. If you wrote this instead:

"His voice was thunder echoing through my very being."

That's a metaphor. In this case you're not saying his voice was like thunder, you're saying it IS thunder. You're attributing the characteristics of thunder to the person's voice directly, rather than simply saying it has some of those characteristics.

Here's another example to make it perfectly clear:

"In the thick unyielding mud his shoes were like anti-gravity boots, making progress slow and frustrating."

I'm sure by now you can tell that's a simile, because of the phrase "like anti-gravity boots". To turn it into a metaphor, simply take out the word like:

"In the thick unyielding mud his shoes were anti-gravity boots, making progress slow and frustrating."

Definition of Simile

A simile is a figure of speech used to compare two objects that would seem to have nothing in common at first glance, such as alcohol and fish in the simile "He drinks like a fish". Similes are constructed using the words "like" or "as" to link the two objects together, such as --

  • He's as tall as a tree
  • Her eyes sparkled like stars in the sky

Simile and Metaphor in Poetry and Prose

Examples of simile and metaphor usage can be found in the writings of all the great authors. Every now and then, you come across one that's so unique and so original that it makes you wonder how on earth the author in question ever thought it up. Here's an example from Dickens' Bleak House, in which the rodent-like Mr. Vohles refuses an invitation to dine with John Jarndyce:

"My digestion is much impaired, and I am but a poor knife and fork at any time."

In the novel Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck describes Curley when he picks a fight with Lennie using the following simile:

"Curley was flopping like a fish on a line."

David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is bursting with figurative language, such as this line spoken by Sister Umegae to the pregnant Orito:

"A Gift in your womb is like a warm stone in your pocket."

And this example, the final line of chapter 4 when Jacob is distracted by a man whose gaze he can't evade:

"The silent observer twists his head, like a hunting dog listening to the sound of its prey."

Similes & Metaphors

Hungry like the wolf?
Hungry like the wolf? | Source

Simile and Metaphor in Song Lyrics

You'll find similes and metaphors in hundreds - if not millions - of songs. Ever since mankind began turning ideas into music and lyrcs, similes and metaphors have provided invaluable devices to get their message across.

Here's an example using similes in an early 20th century folksong collected by Maud Karpeles at Dunville in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland:

"She’s like the swallow that flies so high
She’s like the river that never runs dry,
She’s like the sunshine on the lee shore.
I love my love and love is no more."

And here's a more recent example from the Duran Duran song with the same title:

"Hungry like the wolf."

Or, depending on your musical tastes, you might be more familiar with this metaphor from a well-known musical:

"Life is a cabaret, old chum."

To turn this last example into a simile, you'd simply state that life is like a cabaret. Neil Young's song Heart of Gold includes the following metaphor:

"I've been a miner
For a heart of gold."

One of Bob Dylan's most famous songs includes the metaphor "The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind."

The band Everything But The Girl use this simile in their song Troubled Mind:

"You're like a goods train running through my life."

And Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah includes the line:

"There's a blaze of light in every word."

Definition of Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unrelated objects directly, such as:

  • Her eyes are stars shining brightly
  • He's a rock

In a simile the comparison is indirect, such as "Her hair is like silk." In a metaphor, the comparison is direct, such as "Her hair is silk."

Writing Similes and Metaphors

Examples of this kind of figuratve language can be found in almost any book you pick up. But how can you put them to use to improve your own writing?

Start by writing down what you want to say in the simplest possible way. For example, after being out in sub-zero temperatures, I might say my feet were cold. So I'd write that down as follows:

"My feet were cold."

Not very exciting, is it? Now I need to spice it up with a metaphor or two:

"My feet were blocks of ice, rivers of frozen pain winding their way up through frigid limbs."

I think that gets across how cold I was and also the effect the chill has on one's body. Suppose I sat by the fire to warm myself up. I might say:

"I sat by the fire to try to get warm."

Again, pretty uninspired. I might say instead:

"The heat from the roaring fire was a warm welcome, melting my disposition like an ice cream on a sultry summer afternoon."

Swanning around...
Swanning around... | Source

Metaphor Quote

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance. - Aristotle's "De Poetica," 322 B.C.

And when spring arrives, the ice-covered lake thaws and becomes populated with an assortment of creatures including ducks and swans. Swans in particular seem to be able to glide across the surface effortlessly, but I was struck one day by their rather unusual shape when seen from a certain distance:

"A sea of swans drift quizzically across the water, like white question marks waiting to find their place at the end of a posing sentence."

Part of the fun in using similes and metpahors is in trying to come up with something unique, something original, something that makes your readers sit up and take notice. Look around your environment to find items that would make good comparisons, and then spend some time crafting the best figures of speech you can.

If that's too much like hard work, why not try rewriting some more familiar similes and metaphors yourself? Here are some ideas to help you get started, followed by some quickly penned examples to show what can be achieved with just a little thought:

  • As useful as a chocolate teapot
  • As proud as a peacock
  • Like water off a duck's back
  • Not the sharpest tool in the box
  • A giant among men
  • He kicked the bucket
  • Rolling in dough
  • Raining cats and dogs
  • She swims like a fish
  • He's as sharp as a tack
  • Her words cut like a knife

And here are some examples:

  • As useful as a dead man's watch
  • As pointless as a tree in a car park
  • Hope is the optimist's waiting room

Have fun making up your own similes and metaphors and be sure to try and include them in everything you write.

Tell which of these expressions is a simile and which is a metaphor:

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    • profile image

      Mark 8 months ago

      Great hub to learn the difference between simile and metaphor. Wish I had you as a poetry teacher back in the day.

    • profile image

      2 years ago


    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Glad you enjoyed it ZeldaMes :-)

    • ZeldaMes profile image

      Zelda Mes 2 years ago from South Africa

      Very interesting

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      You're welcome Dave :)

    • DaveOnline profile image

      David Edward Lynch 2 years ago from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

      I did quite well in the quiz - thanks for sharing this helpful information about similes and metaphors.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Thanks sweetpikez. Glad you liked it!

    • sweetpikez profile image

      Pinky de Garcia 2 years ago

      Dear John,

      This is an educational hub. The definition and examples for similes and metaphors are well written.

      Thanks for sharing this.

      Glad to read this,


    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks theBAT... glad you enjoyed it :)

    • theBAT profile image

      theBAT 3 years ago

      "...like a hunting dog listening to the sound of its prey." - this one good example of conveying an idea. Nice hub. I enjoyed reading this.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks eddiecarrara. They should help make your words more palatable :)

    • eddiecarrara profile image

      Eddie Carrara 4 years ago from New Hampshire

      Thanks for the lesson John, I'll start using them in my writing, like lettuce in a salad, lol.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks StayAwakeNow. Glad you enjoyed it and that it was of some help!

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks iguidenetwork. Looks like you've got it...

    • StayAwakeNow profile image

      Giani Noyez 4 years ago from Belgium

      I really enjoyed reading this. English is not my native language and hubs like these improve my english very well. I won't use what I've learned here for writing hubs alone but I'm sure this could be helpful when I need to write articles for my English class also.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      I'm enlightened by your hub about similes and metaphors, and good video as well. Exceptional examples... and my understanding of it is now as clear as a crystal. *wink*

      Voted up and useful. :)

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thank you alifeofdesign!

    • alifeofdesign profile image

      Graham Gifford 4 years ago from New Hamphire

      Great hub. I particularly liked the video. Clearly understand why this was a Hub of the Day. Nice work.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks frogyfish!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Your hub was an enjoyable and interesting refresher in simile and metaphor distinction. Very well described and exampled too. It is a delight to run across unique ones sometimes - others or maybe mine--if I get lucky. :-)

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks adrienne2... glad you liked it!

    • adrienne2 profile image

      Adrienne F Manson 5 years ago from Atlanta

      Hi John, Great hub very informational in explaining the difference between the simile, and metaphor. I will have to add more flavor to my writing by using more metaphorsvor similes. Voted useful.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks ChitrangadaSharan!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub with great examples. You made the use of 'simile' and 'metaphor',interesting and easy to understand. Very well presented. Thanks for sharing.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks haikutwinkle!

    • haikutwinkle profile image

      haikutwinkle 5 years ago

      Another excellent hub and quiz!

      "My box of chocolate for the afternoon with a lingering aftertaste..."

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thank you all for the praise and encouragement! It means a lot...

    • LupitaRonquillo profile image

      LupitaRonquillo 5 years ago

      Your hub of the day was well deserved!

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 5 years ago from Oregon

      Way to go on getting hub of the day honors. This was an interesting read with excellent suggestions for making our writing a richer experience for the readers.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I love your example of comparison within this of figurative language to herbs and spices flavoring up a dish. Great job!

    • Askme profile image

      Pritchard 5 years ago

      Awesome hub and useful. I scored 100% woo hoo!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on HOTD. Great explanation of metaphors and similes., and a great reminder of how we can use them to enliven our writing. Voted up.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Congratulations, on Hub of the day, and very well deserved to. informative and very well presented.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Fabulous Hub. I love metaphors, similes, figures of speech, slang words and the history of all above. I have a 500+page book on slang words and each words history and usage. It is a great book especially when I am looking for nicknames for people. :-) Thank you for the share!

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image

      Ms. Immortal 5 years ago from NJ

      Congrats on Hub of the day. Great presentation and fun quiz. Voted up!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      What a great hub! And congrats on HOTD!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Awesome! I, too, wrote a hub about the difference between a simile and metaphor. I think you may have explained it better! This is great--very clear. I love your examples. I especially like the one you made up about the swans. Way to go! Congrats on HOTD!

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      SilverGenes 5 years ago

      Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Very nice presentation on how to use them without being cliché.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Congratulations on having this chosen for Hub of the Day. This was so enjoyable to read. I really like your top photo, too. It drew me in -- along with the title.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Congratulations JohnMello! You won the HOTD award! Yep, yep, yep!!!

    • Night Magic profile image

      Night Magic 5 years ago from Canada

      It's funny how we soon forget after we're out of school for quite a few years. Good Hub

    • prasonline profile image

      Prasanna Marlin 5 years ago from Sri lanka

      Great discussion, Interesting hub and Congrats on your Hub of the Day award.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      A well deserved Hub of the Day. Congratulations! I'll try and use more similes and metaphors in my writing to spice it up a bit like cinnamon and sugar on warm buttered toast. Up votes and sharing!

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Great discussion. Coming up with original similes and metaphors definitely helps to make a piece more interesting. On the other hand, an old cliché can make it dull and boring. You've provided some great examples!

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks AhalitaMoonfire, Thelma Alberts, RTalloni, stillwaters707, and StephanieBCrosby. I'm very pleased, too!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      I always love a good simile and/or metaphor. Great coverage of the subject matter. Congratulations on your Hub of the Day!

    • stillwaters707 profile image

      stillwaters707 5 years ago from Texas

      I never really considered the difference between the two, but now, it's crystal clear. I just used a metaphor! Thanks for the writing tips and congrats on HOTD.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for an interesting and helpful post on similes and metaphors, and a neat read. Analogously speaking, this piece inspires parallel thinking, however, I think I'd better have my coffee before trying to get too proportional.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

      Wow! I got 100% for the quiz. Congratulations! This is a very useful hub and very informative, too. Now it´s clearer to me how to use similes and metaphors. Thanks for sharing.

    • AhalitaMoonfire profile image

      AhalitaMoonfire 5 years ago from Ohio

      Congrads on being the HUB of the day, and lot of great and useful information. I defently be looking into adding more of this into my writing when I get over my writers block.

      This also put a clearer understanding for Metaphors for me, since when in high school and college, the English instructors always lost me on things like this.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks JayeWisdom and alancaster149!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      How about: 'As upright as a chocolate soldier in a heatwave', or 'As dependable as a lump of lead in a furnace'?

      The English language thrives on metaphors and similes, it's what makes the language 'flow'.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Interesting hub and fun quiz. I love the "flavor" added to fiction through the use of similes and metaphors. Voted Up++


    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Thanks ComfortB!

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Taking the quiz at the end of your hub was as easy as ABC. It was a breeze!

      Nice hub with great examples. Voted up and interesting.