DefinitionSimile is a figure of speech which seeks to find some point or points of resemblance between two essentially different objects, actions, or feelings.
EtymologyThe term simile is from Middle English, which thought to be first used in the 14th century. It was derived from the Late Latin word similis, meaning like, similar or resembling.
DiscussionIn similes an object in one class is said to be like an object in another class. This juxtaposed comparison is explicitly indicated by the conjunctions such as “like” or “as”, which establishes the direct relation between the objects. The literal object which evokes the comparison is called the tenor and the object which describes it is called the vehicle. To explain this we can consider the sentence: “Jonathan is as strong as a tiger”
In the above sentence Jonathan and tiger is from two different classes, that is, the former being a human and the latter being a feline. Here Jonathan is the tenor, while tiger is the vehicle. In this construct Jonathan’s physical strength is being compared to the strength of a tiger, but not that he is a real tiger. Therefore, here we have basically drawn the point of similarity on the point of strength.
Exception in SimilesThe majority of English teachers maintain that a simile is always formed by either “like” or “as”. But it should be noted that although very common, similes are not always formed by “like” or “as”. This is because, there are some similes which are made with “than” and “as if”. For instance:
- In the eyes of his fans he is larger than life.
- He was crying as if he were mad.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:”
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)
Determinants of SimilesSimiles pose greater problems for lay readers. Most often they confuse similes with metaphors. Although there are no definite rules, one can follow the under- mentioned steps to determine whether a simile is present in a text or sentence:
- See whether two things are compared.
- Find whether the two things are dissimilar/unlike.
- Figure out whether the objects are explicitly compared.
- Notice whether conjunctions such as “like”, “as”, “than” or “as if” is used.
Function of SimilesThe use of similes is not merely restricted to literary works; rather its presence is very common in our everyday life as well. Generally, similes are employed in order to achieve the following plus points:
- Similes make a text more enjoyable and creative since the reader gets immense opportunity to use his imaginative power to comprehend what is being conveyed by the poet.
- Similes make the poet’s language more vivid or descriptive.
- Similes restrict the poet from using illogical comparison.
- Through the use of similes the poet can change his tone of voice in a wide variety of ways, ranging from humorous, grave, spiteful, etc.
- Similes inspire life-like quality in our daily talks and in the characters of fiction or poetry.
Differences between Similes and MetaphorsAlthough many people argue that there is little difference between similes and metaphors, in reality these two are dissimilar in a number of respect:
- A simile is where two objects are explicitly compared by using “as”, “like”, “than” or “as if”. A metaphor, on the other hand, also compares two things but without using “as”, “like”, “than” or “as if” and the comparison between the two things is implicit or implied, rather than being specifically stated.
- Similes state that the two objects share a common feature, whereas metaphors state that the two objects are the same or equal.
- In a simile the comparison between two objects are made literally as the reader can interpret the writer’s intension by dictionary meaning. Contrariwise, a Metaphor makes the comparison between the two entities figuratively, that is the reader is not able to understand the meaning by dictionary meaning.
- Although similes and metaphors are generally seen as interchangeable, similes are more tentative and decorative than metaphor.
Types of Similes
1. Everyday Speech SimilesA Simile in everyday speech is different than that of a simile used in literature. In daily communication similes are structured based on common domestic objects, for example:
- He is sharp like a knife
- She cries like a baby
- His brain works like a computer
- She is as tall as a palm tree
- He is as brave as a tiger
- He is as chubby as a pumpkin
2. Literary SimilesA simile in literature, on the other hand, is not as simple as the one used in everyday speech. In literature similes could be specific and direct or more lengthy and complex, for example:
"Her face was shining like the seat of a bus driver's trousers."
(P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, 1954)
"A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard."
(George Orwell, "A Hanging", 1931)
"She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat."
(James Joyce, "The Boarding House", 1914)
3. Negative SimilesAlthough the majority of similes are structured with positive comparison, a negative comparison is also possible, for instance:
'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;'
(William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”, 1609)
4. Overlapped SimilesA simile may incorporate other figures of speech such as hyperbole, understatement, imagery, or irony. For example, the following simile consists of a hyperbole:
- My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
5. Homeric or Epic SimilesEpic similes are a type of extended comparisons, usually comparing a character or action to a natural event, running to several lines. Such similes are typically used in epic poems. Epic simile is also called Homeric simile as the Attic author used it in his famous epics Iliad and the Odyssey. The employment of epic simile not only intensifies the heroic stature of the subject matter but also serves as decoration. Typical Homeric simile makes a comparison to some kind of event, in the form "like” or “as”. The object of the comparison is usually something strange or unfamiliar to something ordinary and familiar.
“I drove my weight on it from above and bored it homeEpic similes sometimes involve multiple points of correspondence between the tenor and the vehicle. For example:
like a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright's drill
that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl
and the drill keeps twisting, never stopping –
So we seized our stake with it fiery tip
and bored it round and round in the giant's eye...”
(Homer, “The Odyssey” , 700 b.c.e.)
“Incenst with indignation Satan stood
Unterrifi'd, and like a Comet burn'd,
That fires the length of Ophiucus huge
In th' Artick Sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes Pestilence and Warr. Each at the Head
Level'd his deadly aime; thir fatall hands
No second stroke intend, and such a frown
Each cast at th' other, as when two black Clouds
With Heav'ns Artillery fraught, come rattling on
Over the Caspian, then stand front to front
Hov'ring a space, till Winds the signal blow
To joyn thir dark Encounter in mid air:
So frownd the mighty Combatants, that Hell
Grew darker at thir frown, so matcht they stood...”
(John Milton, “Paradise Lost”, 1667)
References“Epic Simile.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2014. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 14 July 2014
“Examples of Similes.” Your Dictionary. 2014. LoveToKnow, Corp. 14 July 2014
“Simile.” Wikipedia. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 July 2014
“Simile.” Literary Devices. 2014. Literary Devices. 14 July 2014
“Simile.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2014. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 14 July 2014
“Simile.” Faculty of English. 2011. Faculty of English, University of Cambridge. 14 July 2014