Simile is a figure of speech of comparison that compares two unlike things and says that one thing is like another thing. You’ll often find a comparison word such as like or as in a simile. Examples:
The grass glittered like silver foil.
Martha is as thin as a toothpick.
(The unlike thing being compared to has been underlined in all the examples for ease of following.)
If you noticed,
- comparison is between two unlike things: grass and silver foil in the first and Martha and toothpick in the second.
- the unlike things have something in common: glitter in case of grass and silver foil, and thin in case of Martha and toothpick.
Note that simile is figurative language and shouldn’t be taken literally. So, Martha, in reality, isn’t as thin as a toothpick. It’s a way of saying to enhance writing or speech, but use them sparingly in your writing. Can you think of a simile to convey the message that similes should be used sparingly? Here is one from me:
Similes are like fear. Too much will affect your health; little will keep you safe.
More resources on simile:
- Learn similes through more than hundred examples of five types of similes
- How to write different types of similes and avoid common mistakes?
- Understand the difference between metaphor, simile, and analogy, which can be easily confused
How to write a simile?
Step 1: Decide what do you want to write about. In the first example, you want to write about how the grass glittered.
The grass glittered like….
Step 2: Now think of different things that also glitter (that’s the information we want to convey) but are different from grass. Some such things could be dew in the morning sun, leaf, jewel, silver foil, and glass.
Step 3: Pick one of the things from the above list and complete your simile. The more strikingly different (from grass) and more uncommon your pick is, the better your simile will be. In the list in step 2, leaf isn’t very unlike grass. You can use dew in the morning sun or jewel, but they’ve been commonly used in figurative language. A good choice would be silver foil.
In nutshell, picking an appropriate comparison point, with common message and striking difference, is the crux of writing a good simile.
Let’s take another example. You want to write this sentence as a simile:
The siblings squabbled for the piece of cake.
Here are few similes:
The siblings squabbled for the piece of cake like their dogs do for the bone.
The siblings squabbled for the piece of cake like they do for what show to watch on TV.
The siblings squabbled for the piece of cake like lions do for a piece of a kill.
Which one do you like? Which evokes the best imagery in your mind?
Siblings vs. dogs is more striking than siblings for cake vs. siblings over what show to watch. But even more striking is siblings vs. several lions. It evokes the image of a pride of lion feasting on a cape buffalo, jostling, snarling, and swiping at each other from time to time. The third simile sends readers’ imagination flying. That’s why we use similes: creating vivid pictures to make writing interesting.
Appropriate comparison is the crux in any figure of speech of comparison, including similes. So, go for striking differences in your comparisons that evoke surprise and delight if you want to write similes worth remembering.
Once kids get a hang of two unlike things sharing common message, I’ve observed, they get into overdrive in creating multiple similes for a primary thing.
Step 4: Add details to your simile. For example, we can make the above simile more informative by adding details.
The siblings squabbled for the piece of cake like lions do for a piece of a kill for over thirty minutes, not yielding an inch. In the evening, however, they compromised and shared.
Examples of similes
While going through the examples that follow, pay attention to the striking difference between the two things being compared (remember, grass and silver foil!) and the common message (remember, glitter!). Note that my comments that go with examples are in square brackets.
1. Beginner-level similes
You can start your simile journey by comparing one simple concrete thing with another. The first simile below, for example, compares a phone with a police siren, both of them concrete things. Another starting point, especially for kids, is comparing humans with animals on characteristics for which animals are known (examples 6 and 7, and more in the first exercise). For the first two examples, the two unlike things and commonality between them is mentioned. If you’re a beginner at similes, you can try this yourself for the remaining similes in this post.
1. The phone of the person sitting next to me rang like a police siren.
[Phone is being compared to an unlike thing police siren because both can be loud.]
2. The apple pie is as fresh as mountain stream.
[Apple pie is being compared to an unlike thing mountain stream because both are fresh.]
3. The road turned out to be crooked like a witch’s hat.
4. Covid-19 is like a bullet piercing the body. It might exit your body, but it leaves wounds – sometimes fatal – behind. Source
[Sometimes, you need an explanation to understand a simile. Here, the first sentence alone wouldn’t have been sufficient.]
5. My ironed shirt was as crisp as a new currency note.
6. You’re as slow as a snail.
[Such similes are fine for beginners, but one needs to move on after gaining confidence in writing them. Comparison with snail, sloth, or tortoise is quite common to show that something is slow, and therefore this simile doesn’t pose a striking unlikeness between the two things. What about this: You’re as slow as an ant walking with legs dipped in honey.]
7. My friend eats like a horse.
[Again, this simile is fine for beginners but can be improved. Better would be: My friend eats like elephants in the wild, who can eat up to 16 hours a day. Note that the additional information on hours is helpful for the readers to judge if elephants are heavy eaters. Size alone isn’t enough.]
8. The elephants crushed the hut like an eggshell.
9. The audience for the boxing match was packed in like sardines.
10. The colony was deserted like a cemetery.
2. Intermediate-level similes
At the intermediate level, you can start comparing abstract things, which are harder to visualize, with something concrete, which are more touchy-feely. In the first sentence below, for example, health has been compared with a downward-sloping road. These similes are more challenging to write than beginner-level similes because thinking of an abstract concept in terms of something concrete isn’t straightforward.
1. His health is going down like the road from the mountain top.
2. The fearsome warrior ran through the enemies like a hot knife through butter.
3. Today’s lesson was as clear to me as mud.
[Mud has been used to drive home the common message, unclear. If the lesson was clear, one could write as clear to me as spring water.]
4. Your expressions during the play were as animated as a suit on a hanger.
5. My grandfather’s temper was as fickle as English weather.
6. I was as energetic as a cheerleader at the start of the day, but was as flat as a deflated balloon by evening.
7. Owning mistake like he did is as rare as a blue rose.
8. He was dancing like a popcorn in the machine.
9. I was waiting for Friday like a dog waiting to be taken for a walk.
10. Justice is like a train that’s nearly always late. Yevgeny Yevtushenko
[Because justice is often delayed due to tortuously long proceedings in courts, choice of train as comparison point is bang on.]
3. Advanced-level similes
You can take your similes to the next level by: first, comparing complex ideas which often come in long strings of words (see example 1) and, second, graduating similes from tools of style alone to being part of sentences whose main job is to provide information, like they do in any regular composition (see example 2). That’s where similes fit more naturally into actual pieces of writing. That’s the main goal, isn’t it?
1. Michael Phelps diving into a pool was like a pirate, with a map in hand, jumping on a desolate beach to dig out treasure of gold. [That’s comparing complex ideas.]
2. I’m stuck in an unnecessary meeting like a leg in the cast, and therefore would reach home late. [Here the simile becomes part of a larger message.]
3. His typing is noisy like a washing machine rotating at full speed with dozen spoons inside.
4. In the initial months of Covid-19, we thought it’ll go away in few months, but we were wrong. It has taken roots like the hardiest weed, almost impossible to get rid of. [Part of a larger message giving information]
5. Awaiting the exam result, I was as relaxed as a person about to go in for a root canal.
6. When my business finally made money, I used up all excess cash like a desert soaks up excess rain.
7. The hackers made off with millions of dollars from the bank, taking advantage of their lax security which was as strong as the one provided by our street dog drunk on a litre of beer.
8. I had grand dreams, but, when faced with reality, they went down, much like how Titanic went down after colliding with the iceberg.
9. Listening to the Fifth Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for forty-five minutes. Aaron Copland
10. There, the actor – dressed like a dapper, blood-soaked zombie – took on the Michael Jackson classic “Thriller.” Source
Exercises on simile
Here are few exercises to test your understanding of similes. Give it a try, and then look at the answers.
Match the options with the sentences to complete the simile.
a fox/ a pig/ an owl/ a beaver/ a kitten
1. The kids were as playful as _____.
2. He is as wise as _____.
3. He is as crafty as _____.
4. After playing, you look as dirty as _____.
5. He is working like _____ for his upcoming test.
1. a kitten 2. an owl 3. a fox 4. a pig 5. a beaver
Match the options with the sentences to complete the simile.
a faucet/ a guitar string/ an alarm clock/ an empty sac/ a robot
1. Dead tired, I fell on the couch like _____.
2. Our PE instructor meant business; he was as friendless as _____.
3. He spoke like _____.
4. I can turn on and off sales from my online shop like _____.
5. With not an inch of flab, your stomach is as taut as _____.
1. an empty sac 2. an alarm clock 3. a robot 4. a faucet 5. a guitar string
Some of the sentences below have similes and some don’t. Identify the ones that have.
1. The magician was a mirage in the desert.
2. The magician was like his mentor in his deceptive tricks.
3. The magician was deceptive as he had prepared well.
4. The magician was as deceptive as a mirage in the desert.
5. The project was as adventurous as bungee jumping.
6. The project was as adventurous as the last project.
7. The project was adventurous like bungee jumping.
8. The project was like awesome.
9. He talks like a bullet train.
10. He talks like a robot.
11. He talks like his sister.
12. He talks like his friend.
4, 5, 7, 9, and 10 are similes.
What similes would you use to describe the hummingbird in the picture? Write as many as you can.
1. The hummingbird’s beak is as pointed as an arrow.
2. The hummingbird’s beak is as pointed as the questions put to tech executives during the anti-trust congressional hearing.
3. Its gaze is like that of a hawk: penetrating and intimidating.
4. It is hovering like my teacher during the exam.
Which of the first two comparisons catches your attention more?
What similes would you use to describe the man with the fish in the picture? Write as many as you can.
1. The man is showing his catch as proudly as an athlete showing her Olympic medal.
2. With two ear-like protrusions, the fish is like a little sea monster.