Writing: The Simile – Comparing Apples and Oranges Is Sometimes OK

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Writing is like injecting your thoughts into the brain of our reader

OK, that was a corny exaggerated simile. But you get the idea.

Simile is a comparison between two different things that resemble each other in some way. This device is used for comparing an unfamiliar thing to some familiar thing (an object, event, process, etc.) known to the reader. You can use the simile as a tool for clarifying an idea or concept, but often it is used to make an impression, as an example of artistic or poetic style in one’s writing.

Usually, and especially when a noun is compared with a noun, the simile is usually introduced by the word like:

After too long in the direct sun, my mother in law looked like a piece of overcooked bacon.

A person in jail is like a bird in a cage.

Some grammarians say that when a verb or phrase is compared to a verb or phrase, the word as must be used.

They kept focused on their goal, as a sunflower always turns to the sun.

Here is your big chance. You have to run as a person running for his life.

However, this may sound a little forced. Usually the word like is acceptable. This was once a big issue with the commercial for a cigarette brand: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”. Despite the academic complaints no one thought it was normal speech to say, “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”.

Nowadays, most persons would say that both of the previous sentences could be:

They kept focused on their goal, like a sunflower always turns to the sun.

Here is your big chance. You have to run like a person running for his life.

Many times the simile, the object that is being compared to, precedes the thing compared to it. In these cases, the word so is used to show the comparison:

The grass bends with the wind; so does the typical politician.

A quiet stream runs deep, so does the thoughtful person.

But sometimes the word so is understood rather than expressed:

As wax melts before the fire,/ may the wicked perish before God. –Psalm 68:2b

Whenever it is not immediately clear to the reader, what is the point of similarity between the unlike objects, A good writer has to specify the comparison to avoid confusion and vagueness. For example, it is not enough to say,

“On my job, I am like a mushroom”. To be clear, the writer could say, “On my job, I am like a mushroom. They keep me in the dark and feed me shit.”

A good name is like glass–the brighter the shine, the more easily it can shatter.

He was like a skunk, even though it was not his fault, he had a bad reputation.

She felt like an avocado at the grocers; she had been poked and squeezed so much that no one picked her up.

Often the point of similarity can be expressed in just a word or two, with no explanation.

He is as useless as tits on a bull.

Yes, he is a cute puppy, but he will be as big as a house.

Sometimes, the simile word can be used as an adjective:

He uses weasel words and slippery arguments..

His speech had a drum-like monotony to it.

Similes can also be negative, making the point that two things are unlike in one or more respects:

To see his artwork doesn’t move you to say “wow!” But it does have its charm.

I wouldn’t say he fought like a tiger, but he possessed a quiet tenaciousness as he worked towards his goals.

Other ways to use similes include the use of comparison:

Ramiro ran around searching for an apartment more than a squirrel searching for acorns in the fall.

But this truth is clearer than spring water.

So a variety of ways exists for invoking the simile. Here are a few of the possibilities:

butter is like margarine

butter is not like margarine

butter is the same as margarine

butter is more valuable than margarine

butter is less valuable than margarine

butter better than margarine, so is lard

butter is similar to margarine

butter resembles margarine

butter is as much like margarine as is lard

butter is like margarine as is lard

butter is more margarine than lard

butter is less margarine than lard

But a simile can sometimes be implied. In such cases no comparative word is needed:

The English teacher was almost similar to a person with boxes and boxes of socks, but with no feet. She had thousands of quotations memorized but could never fit them into a conversation.

When I think of the ACT exam, I think of slavery and torture and evil professors.

Leslie has silky hair and the skin of an angel.

Find more good writing tips at:

write by Mackenzie St Germain

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