Metaphor vs Simile vs Analogy: What is the Difference Between Them?

If you could paint a picture with words, what would that image look like? Writers use many literary devices to raise the quality of their descriptions from good to amazing. Three of these devices are metaphor, simile, and analogy. What are these three devices, and what is the difference between each of them?

Let’s take a look at what metaphors, similes, and analogies are and some famous examples of each. When you can create vivid descriptions using them, whether writing at work or writing a poem to a loved one, you can get your point across so much more effectively.

Metaphors Turn Ideas into Pictures

A metaphor compares two things that are different but have something in common. The comparison is indirect, like saying that one thing is like another.

To create a metaphor, think about the idea that you want to express. For example, you want to say that life sometimes feels unreal. What else feels like it isn’t real? Dreams. Movies. The theatre. When you have these two ideas, write the comparison. For example, we have this famous quote by a famous playwright:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.”

William Shakespeare

A metaphor turns an idea into a vivid image. You can picture an idea, a memory, or a moment that a writer is sharing much more clearly when you use metaphors. Some writers use extended metaphors, which is the same as taking a comparison and expanding it over several sentences.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

Metaphors are a succinct way to express a comparison as a vivid image.

Similes Describe Ideas Concisely

A simile is like a metaphor. It compares one thing to something else to make the description easier to picture in your mind. You can identify a simile by checking if the comparison uses “like” or “as.”

We use similes often in our everyday communication. They are especially effective because we can use a few concise words to express an entire thought. Think of the last time you said, “It’s raining like cats and dogs” or “that lecture was as exciting as watching paint dry.”

You could say, “He gave me directions that were really hard to understand. They were so confusing that I got lost.” Or you could say, “His directions were as clear as mud.” We’ve all seen mud before, so we understand just how confused you felt.

Similes can be brief and effective, such as this one:

“Life is like writing with a pen. You can cross out your past but you can’t erase it.”

E.B. White

A simile can also be an idea, such as “be like water” and extended to illustrate what it means to behave like water.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee

Think of all the similes you use in everyday communication, in your emails, your texts, and in conversations. What similes do you use to convey your thoughts?

Analogies Explain by Comparing

An analogy is also a comparison between two things, but the purpose is to explain or clarify what you mean. Metaphors and similes are two types of analogies.

We use analogies often in everyday speech. They have found their way into movies and stories, and they are so popular that you can probably list several analogies from what you’ve watched and read.

One well-known analogy is “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get,” fromthe movie Forrest Gump. Just like a box full of chocolates, life has many surprises.

Another is writer E.B. White’s famous words, “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” Sometimes things are better when you don’t understand everything.

Key Takeaway

An analogy compares two things to make a concise explanation. Two types of analogies are similes and metaphors. A metaphor shows how one thing is like another, while a simile compares using “like” or “as.” Use an analogy whenever you want to explain something vividly, just like snapping a photo of your thoughts. It’s economical, precise, and impactful.

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