Tip: If you're serious about improving your writing, one of the best ways is to improve your vocabulary — not so you know how to use big words, but so you can choose the right word at the right time to convey your meaning precisely and simply. To improve your vocabulary, we highly recommend you try the popular vocabulary-improvement software called Ultimate Vocabulary. Click Ultimate Vocabulary for details.*
"What is a simile?" I hear you cry. Its name is a bit of a give-away; a simile is a figure of speech where one thing is described as being similar or alike to another thing. So, two different things are compared, and the words "like", "as", and "than" are generally used (although not always!).
Some examples will make all this clear!
As delicious as jelly snakes. Quiet as little fishes. Alone, like a leper. Briefer than the twinkling of an eye. Green as grass. Short, thick, and round,—like a suet-pudding. Stronger than steel. Dumb as an oyster. Devious, like a squirrel.
Here are some more examples from literature and other sources. They are a very popular figure of speech in poetry, of course, but also used widely in all writing. The similes are underlined.
"Honoria... is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging on a tin bridge."
— P.G. Wodehouse
"Swore like a preacher’s son."
— H.L. Mencken
"Cowardly as a wild duck."
— William Shakespeare
"She was a little dilapidated, like a house, with having been so long to let."
— Charles Dickens
"He sighed like a zephyr."
— Mark Twain
"Sparkled like white bait in the meshes of a net."
— Camille Lemonier
"He melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven."
— Alfred Tennyson
Blackadder: Baldrick, I have a very, very, very cunning plan.
Baldrick: Is it as cunning as a fox what used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on, and is now working for the UN at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning?
Blackadder: Yes, it is.
Baldrick: Mm... That's cunning!
— Captain Edmund Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth
"The harpsichord sounds like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof."
— Sir Thomas Beecham
"Deteriorate like a fish in the sun."
— Ambrose Bierce
"Money is like manure; of very little use unless it be spread."
— Francis Bacon
"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."
And now some examples of funny badly written similes (from high school essays):
"The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't."
— Russell Beland
"The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon."
"Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut."
— Sandra Hull
"The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium."
"He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something."
— John Kammer
Here are some guidelines on writing good similes:
• Avoid clichés (eg as good as gold) — and a great many clichés are similes, so be wary!
• Don't state the obvious (eg as blue as the sky)
• Your simile should fit with your writing style, and not stand out (eg if you're writing a funny piece, don't use a gloomy, dark simile)
• Be descriptive (describing without expressing feelings or judging) rather than literal (taking words in their usual or most basic sense, free from exaggeration or distortion)
• Keep your audience in mind, make sure they can relate to the things you're using in comparison.
So, when you're writing and wish to impart a lively and different feel to your words, see if you can add a few unexpected similes into your work! It may take some practice, but it's worth persevering.
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