A Simile Is Like a Metaphor, Only…

This vintage World War II poster is as dark as a literary device gets!
This vintage World War II poster is as dark as a literary device gets!

When it comes to experimentation with literary devices, I’m all for it. Business writing, personal or creative writing, I don’t care – it’s okay to want your copy to “sing the body electric.” In a previous post, I encouraged you to play with your words by using alliteration in your marketing copy.

The key to using these tools well is to do so creatively and avoid overuse. I’m now wading into deeper waters (figuratively) by encouraging you to experiment with similes and metaphors. You might ponder, “That’s great, similes and metaphors – what the heck is the difference between them, Little Miss Writer Person and Blogger?” You’ve asked a good question. Here’s the answer…

I Love the Smell of Freshly-Brewed Literary Terms in the Morning: Similes and metaphors are used to compare two unrelated things to each other when you write. You relate the characteristics of the two different things in an interesting way that convinces your reader they share similar qualities.

A simile uses the bridge words “like” or “as” to make it clear you’re comparing two dissimilar entities. A metaphor takes a less direct approach and skips the connecting bridge words when comparing two unrelated things. Have I lost you yet? Don’t worry, some fun examples are coming your way in 3, 2, 1.

Some Scintillating Similes:

Mostly Mellifluous Metaphors:

  • I think Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of the most effective sleeping aids on the market.
  • His sister’s boating skills are probably a roller coaster ride straight to the emergency room.
  • Last night’s final school concert of the year was a rare and special bottle of champagne we finally uncorked.
  • Gigi’s homemade candies melt into miniature time bombs of explosive delight! (Too violent?)

Mix Your Salad, Not Your Metaphors: Now that you’ve got a handle on the difference between similes and metaphors, we should discuss the dreaded mixed metaphor. This “tempest in a teapot” happens when you combine two different or unrelated metaphors in an attempt to demonstrate your dazzling language skills.

Comedians sometimes use mixed metaphors (i.e., malapropisms) as part of their routine. If you’re not a professional funny guy or gal, it’s probably best to avoid using mixed metaphors when writing for business. For a more in-depth explanation, allow Grammar Girl to show you the way. Here are some “mixed” examples of my own:

  • It’s your last chance to nail this penalty shot from the foul line, so get in there and run all the bases. (Sadly, mixed sports metaphors are quite common.)
  • A bird in the hand is worth all the tea in China. (One might call this a dead metaphor, the result of combining two worn-out cliches.)
  • My overprotective brother doesn’t like seeing us together, so if I were you, I’d grow eyes in your fly on the wall. (I was aiming for a truly bad mixed metaphor here…)
  • For more badly-written metaphors (and similes), check out this Writer’s Relief contest from a few years ago…


When writing for your business, how do you make your copy more “visual” or descriptive? After reading this blog post, are you more likely or less likely to experiment with similes and metaphors in your writing efforts? As a bonus for reading this entire entry, here’s an entertaining piece from the Huffington Post regarding the teen writer’s perspective on similes and metaphors.

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her (lori@byallwrites.biz) for a no-obligation project quote today!

2 Responses to A Simile Is Like a Metaphor, Only…

    • Hi Claudia,

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed this blog post, and I hope it encourages you to incorporate more creativity into your business/marketing content.