English Grammar Blog
Using Similes and Metaphors
Learning the proper usage of similes and metaphors is more advanced than the basic rules of the English language; however, mastering them will expand your skills and allow you to blend in more easily with strong native speakers. Similes and metaphors are similar in their functions and are often confused for each other but there is a subtle difference between them. Both are considered to be a figure of speech so let’s begin with a basic understanding of that term.
When someone says to you that the sentence they just spoke was a “figure of speech,” they’ve generally said something that does not make literal sense and may be confusing to those who are not native speakers. Many phrases that have become common place in the English language are figures of speech and do not make literal sense. A good example of this is the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Of course it’s not actually raining cats and dogs. Instead, what the speaker means when they say this phrase to you is that it’s raining very hard as opposed to just sprinkling or a steady rain.
Now that you have a basic grasp of figures of speech, let’s move onto similes. A simile is a sentence that takes two things that are generally considered to be quite different and compares them to each other as if they’re actually similar. A simile often uses the words “as” or “like” in order to show the comparison. An example of a common simile is when someone says to you that they’re “working like a dog.” This figure of speech actually means that they’re working very hard and, most likely, working very long hours. The non-literal comparison of “working” to a “dog,” two words that typically wouldn’t go together, along with the incorporation of the word “like” between the comparison is how you know that it’s a simile.
Metaphors are similar on the surface but are different. To be a true metaphor, there will be a non-literal comparison, just like in a simile, but there are two main differences; one of the words in the sentence will also be used to symbolize something else and there will be no introductory words, such as like or as, to introduce the comparison. Instead the comparison will be implied instead of more bluntly stated. An example of a commonly used metaphor is “the foot of the mountains.” In this example, the word “foot” is used to symbolize the base of the mountains. When you hear the word “foot” you automatically think of the lowest point on your body and therefore hearing the phrase “the foot of the mountains” automatically conjures up an image of the lowest point of a mountain, regardless of if you’re familiar with the phrase or not. So as you can see that phrase has both a non-literal comparison, comparing a foot to a mountain, and symbolism, using the word “foot” to represent the base of the mountains, and that’s how you know it’s a metaphor.
Although similes and metaphors may seem a bit tricky at first, with a bit of practice they’ll allow you to have less confusing conversations with native speakers. As with everything else, practice makes perfect so have fun with it!