What is a simile? A simile is basically a figure of speech which directly compares two objects. Similes differ in comparison to other metaphors by emphasizing the similarities between the objects with comparison words like “as”, “like”, “to be”, “and” etc., while other similes create implicit comparisons without these comparison words. For instance, two photographs of people lying down are compared: one has a big nose and the other has a small one; one has a red shirt and the other a blue one. Similes thus provide a means for comparing two items in a meaningful way.
But how do similes create comparison? For example, to compare two things using similes, you have to use the same comparison word for both of them (a big nose for a big nose, a blue shirt, or a blue shirt, etc.). What is the “meaning” behind the comparison? The meaning depends on the intent of the writer. In other words, if you are comparing a painting with an old oak tree, you do not have to mention any age or physical features of the painting to convey the simile’s meaning – you can just use “old oak” to mean “old.”
Many people make similes all the time. A most common example is comparing a person to a toothache. You might say something like, “He’s as sore as a sore thumb.” This is clearly a simile because it has a specific comparison between the two. But if we use a more general expression like “A person as sore as a sore thumb,” we don’t have the same comparison here.
One reason why some people are confused about what is a simile and what is not a simile is because they tend to use the word “simile” to describe both types of comparison. But this is not the best approach. As I noted above, similes must have a certain amount of similarity between them for there to be a comparison at all. Thus, it is important to be clear which types of comparisons you want to make when you use similes. Otherwise, you will be confused and end up using the wrong comparison.
For instance, many people will say something like, “She was just like a figment of my imagination.” But this is not a simile at all! Rather, this is an example of an example. A figment of your imagination is completely different from a real living woman, even in the clearest of illustrations.
Another reason why some people are unclear as to what is a simile and what is a comparison is simply because they make the two words sound similar, or are eager to draw a parallel. But the truth of the matter is that a simile is usually not a parallel attempt. Instead, it is meant to convey a single point or to draw attention to a specific point. Thus, for example, you might say something like, “The old oak tree still stands tall despite the years.” This shows how the simile draws attention to the timeless quality of the oak tree, its age, and its significance.
One other reason why some people get confused as to what is a simile and what is a comparison is because they try to use all types of examples to describe their own poems. However, this is almost never a good approach. Instead, it is much better to draw attention to your own examples, and leave the other types of examples for later in your poetry.
One final reason why you might be confused as to what is a simile and what is a comparison is because people tend to use the word simile in contexts that do not necessarily have anything to do with the comparison. For instance, they might say something like, “I noticed that the girl in the coffee shop was getting a little restless. It looked like she was about to snap.” That could be a simile used to compare the speaker’s state of mind to that of the coffee shop clerk. But it is also a metaphorical meaning of snap, since that’s the way we usually describe the way our minds work when we’re angry or frustrated. So in that case, it is a figurative comparison, not a literal one.