[Writing tips] The difference between similes and metaphors

Last week, a fellow word-lover shared with us his struggle to learn the difference between similes and metaphors. I hope this excerpt will help every visitor who wants to learn those definitionsand learn why to use such figures of speech.

A simile is a figure of speech consisting in comparing one thing to another. The comparison is introduced by like or as. For example:

My love is like a red, red rose.

He is happy as a lark.

A metaphor is a figure of speech consisting in identifying one thing with another. In a metaphor, a person or a thing is not like another person or another thing; it is another person or another thing. For example:

John Smith is a regular fox.

My heart is a heavy stone.

Similes and metaphors are called figures of speech. A style that is full of similes and metaphors is called a figurative style. A good writer uses figures of speech for three reasons:

1. to produce clearness. In the sentence

The bird sits atilt like a blossom among the leaves.

the simile makes the picture of the bird clear and unique and beautiful. You can actually see the bird tilted like a blossom.

2. to give force. In the phrase

a gush of violets

the word gush, identifying the violets with a flood of raindrops, makes the picture not only clear, but forceful.

3. to suggest unity. This is very important. An apt figure of speech stirs us to the depths of our being. Why? Because, as some philosophers maintain, it subly suggests that all things are essentially one. It helps to unify the world.

The rose in the garden, unfolding its petals to the sun, and the rose of the morning, spreading its cloud-petals over the earth, are both alike manifestations of the self-same source of beauty.

And the great poet, in his moments of real insight — that is, in the moments when he creates a perfect simile or metaphor — realizes that the world is a unit. The figurative language of the poet is therefore a fragmentary sample of the language of Heaven, revealing to us in that moment of inspiration that all men are brothers and all things are one.

This is the reason why a beautiful simile strikes us to forcibly as to take away our breath. For it is a revelation of truth.

From The Complete Book of English, by Henry Thomas.


Now you know why to use similes and metaphors, how about checking examples from the bestselling novel The Cardinal?

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