The Differences Between Simile, Metaphor, and Analogy (With Examples)
In this article, we address the differences between similes, metaphors, and analogies. We also discuss when and how they should be used in writing.
Aug. 26, 2020 · 6 Min Read
Simile, metaphor, and analogy are often used interchangeably. However, although all three are used as tools of comparison, they are not one and the same. Their use depends on the desired effect that the writer wants to convey. If a more literal comparison needs to be made about, say, the speed at which a sprinter runs, then a simile may be better than an analogy. If the writer wishes to compare an unfulfilled life with something, then an analogy is probably a better choice.
Metaphor, Simile, and Analogy Definitions and Examples
Metaphor Definition: A metaphor is a direct comparison of one thing with another.
The man is a wolf when he eats.
In the first example, a direct comparison is drawn between a man’s table manners and a wolf. The reader thinks of ravenous chomping and the hoarding of food.
Work is a prison.
In this example, it is clear that the writer does not have a favorable opinion about work. It is compared to a prison, and the comparison makes the reader think of small rooms and rigid rules.
Simile Definition: A simile is a metaphor that uses “as” or “like” in its comparison.
He is as warm as a furnace.
This statement makes a comparison between someone’s fever and the heat of a furnace. Crucially, it contains the conjunction “as”.
He jumped up like a cat.
In this example, the individual’s agility is likened to that of a cat. Note that it contains the word “like”.
Analogy Definition: An analogy is similar to a metaphor, but it is more complex and explanatory. It conveys a deeper, more meaningful truth.
Henry’s yattering makes me think of someone who complains about wet ankles in a sinking boat.
Wet ankles and a sinking boat have nothing to do with what the writer is trying to convey. However, the comparison relays to the reader that Henry should rethink his priorities.
Her career is similar to a meteoroid.
In this example, a comparison is made between a person’s career and the passage of a meteoroid. The reader immediately thinks of the fiery trail a meteoroid leaves behind when it enters and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. The writer attributes this sense of freneticism, energy, and impermanence to the individual’s career trajectory.
Practical Application of Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies in Writing
It is important to note that there is no right or wrong way to apply metaphors, similes, or analogies. There are rules of thumb, of course, such as using them sparingly. Generally, though, it depends on the writer and what he or she is trying to convey. That being said, the following aspects are pertinent.
When and How to Write Metaphors and Similes
Given that metaphors and similes tend to compare two things more directly, it is usually better to use them in a more literal sense. But how can a figure of speech be literal? Let’s deconstruct some of the previous examples for a better understanding.
The man is a wolf when he eats. (Metaphor)
Work is a prison. (Metaphor)
Both of the above metaphors have clear, comparative imagery. The similarities between a wolf and a ravenous man are clear. Bared teeth, furtive glances, a guttural sound while eating—all of these elements can be associated with both the wolf and the man when he eats.
This is the same for the second example. There are definite similarities between a cubic office space and a jail cell. Instead of a warden, the office worker has to answer to a manager; in both the office and the jail, a bell signals when it is lunch. You get the point.
He is as warm as a furnace. (Simile)
She jumped up like a cat. (Simile)
Much like metaphors, similes usually contain readily identifiable imagery. What character trait would you associate with a dog? Loyalty, most likely. What element is most associated with a clock? Time. What about a river? Water.
Look at the above similes. Furnaces are associated with fire, and fire is, of course, associated with heat. The simile’s imagery makes it clear that the person is suffering from not just any fever, but a bad fever.
The second example draws on the agility associated with cats. The person does not only jump, but jumps like a cat—quick, silent, effortless.
As you’ve probably noticed, metaphors and similes are not only meant to conjure up evocative imagery; they also serve a structural purpose. Conciseness. When used properly, metaphors can condense lengthy explanations otherwise bogged down with adjectives and adverbs. For instance, instead of saying,
The man behaves rudely when he eats. He glares at everybody, and he doesn’t allow anyone near his plate. He even snarls, and his teeth are bloody when he speaks.
the writer instead uses the metaphor,
The man is a wolf when he eats.
The description is condensed, but the image of the man is the same. However, metaphors and similes should be used sparingly. If overused, their impact is lessened. In some cases, their overuse can severely hamper the readability of a piece.
When and How to Write Analogies
Unlike metaphors and similes, analogies hinge on clarity. Although they also use imagery, their interpretation usually requires deeper thought from the reader. In short, an analogy requires a bit more critical thinking. Let’s have a closer look at our previous examples.
Henry’s yattering makes me think of someone who complains about wet ankles in a sinking boat
The above example’s meaning is not as readily apparent as our metaphors or similes. The reader needs more than a mental image (jumping cat, ravenous man etc.) to understand what the writer means. The point is not the sinking boat, but Henry's priorities. The writer uses the above analogy instead of saying something along the lines of:
Henry is ridiculous, pedantic, and unreasonable.
But isn’t this rewritten version more concise? Yes, but it also loaded with adjectives. In other words, it is very “tell-y”. Let’s consider our second analogy.
Her career is similar to a meteoroid.
As a one-off statement, the reader might attribute negative traits to the person’s career trajectory. It may be a flash in the pan, temporary, fading. However, it could also be surprising, bright, unstoppable, and so forth. The analogy therefore requires critical thinking to be understood, and critical thinking requires context. What is happening in the story? What is happening to the character? Remember, as a writer, you should always try to use clear, understandable imagery and scenarios when writing analogies.
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