Simile definition: A simile is a type of figurative language that expresses a comparison between two entities using comparison words.
What is a Simile?
What is simile? A simile is figurative language. Therefore, its meaning is figurative, not literal.
A simile compares two things using comparison terms such as like, as, resembles, and than.
In writing, similes are used to express deeper meaning, convey complexity, and add appeal.
An example will further explain this concept.
Example of Simile:
- Abe is like an old oak.
Clearly, Abe is not literally an old oak. This simile states that Abe is figuratively like an old oak. The simile is figurative to compare Abe’s qualities to the qualities of the old oak.
In this example, to say Abe is like an old oak might mean that he is experienced, strong, grounded. The exact meaning of a simile will always depend upon the context of its use.
Modern Examples of Similes
Because similes convey depth and layers of meaning concisely, they are often used in music and poetry.
An example of this includes a line from Rihanna’s song, “Diamonds:”
“You and I, you and I,
We’re like diamonds in the sky”
In this example Rihanna uses a simile to express a comparison. The lines of the song use the word “like” to compare “you and I”/“we” to “diamonds.”
“We” are not literally diamonds but are figuratively “like diamonds.” The simile adds depth of meaning and provides the audience an opportunity to consider how these two people are like diamonds. Is it that they are bright? Precious? Unique? Exquisite?
Using a simile adds layered meaning and makes the lyrics more concise and effective.
More Simile Examples:
Here is an example of a simile being used in a popular American newspaper.
- Happy as a Clam
This is a popular simile used in writing, and it describes someone who is extremely happy.
- There’s a bar in my neighborhood that makes top-notch cocktails, yet the staff always seem uninterested and cold. There’s another where the proprietor openly mocks the hoity-toityness of craft cocktails and insists on shaking my Negroni, but who kisses me on the cheek when I show up and tells great off-color stories. Ask me which place I visit weekly, happy as a clam. –The Washington Post
The Function of Similes
Writers use similes to make writing more interesting. A simile expresses a figurative meaning that literal words do not. Similes also make writing more concise.
Writers use similes when they want to express a comparison. Similes allow for interpretation and layer meaning in text.
A writer will often choose a simile when he wants to add greater significance to his text.
For example, to say, “Abe is like an old oak,” is much more effective than to say, “Abe is experienced, strong, grounded, reliable,” and so on.
Similes add layered meaning and interest to writing.
How Similes are Used in Literature
Since one function of a simile is to make writing more concise and to convey greater meaning, they are often used in poetry, although they are widely used in prose as well.
The following similes are found in lines 1-6 of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred.”
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Throughout this poem, Hughes compares what happens to a dream deferred (line 1) to various potential outcomes (lines 2-6). The poem continues in this fashion.
In the example the speaker is evaluating the consequences one might experience when he cannot pursue his dreams. Each potential outcome is stated in a simile, comparing that deferred dream to each event.
Each event in this poem has an unfortunate outcome. Does “it,” “the dream,” dry up and shrivel like a raisin? Fester and run? Stink like meat?
Hughes explores these outcomes through similes. The figurative comparisons express greater possibility than literal text. It is through these similes that Hughes’ audience can contemplate just how consequential it is when a dream is deferred.
Summary: What are Similes?
Define simile: In this post, we outlined the definition of simile in literature, poetry, and other kinds of writing. We gave numerous examples of similes in historical works and in modern language.
To sum up, a simile,
- is a comparison between two things
- uses comparison terms (like, as, resembles)
- is figurative in meaning
- is used frequently in writing
For questions about metaphor and other literary terms, see our Grammar Dictionary.