Metaphor and simile

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Simile and metaphor are the central Figures of speech. Both use an imaginative comparison to make a description come alive in the mind of the reader. It is only sensible for you to learn if you can see the point, or have a need to do so. The difference between metaphor and simile may not strike you as important; but if you need to know it - or are interested - learn it. The essential difference is this:

a simile says openly that it is a comparison, by using words such as 'like' (e.g. "she smokes like a chimney") or 'as' (e.g. "it follows as the night doth follow day" (Shakespeare)).
A metaphor, on the other hand, hides the fact that it is a comparison and says that one thing IS another: "He is a ball of fire".

Metaphor is often felt to be more poetic, more creative than simile. (In the eighteenth century in England, and in the Silver Age in Rome, simile was perhaps more highly valued by poets and critics alike.) Many writers say that its effect on the reader’s or hearer’s mind is more immediate – that because there is no “buffer word (‘like’ or ‘as’)” , we see exactly what the writer means. Is it more vivid to say the first of these or the second?

She was as beautiful as a butterfly and proud as a Queen,
Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green.

Clifton, Harry (1832-1872) Pretty Polly Perkins online at (accessed October 2004)

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II i 1-2

There are separate articles on metaphor and simile. See also the Figures of Speech course.