Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Metaphor vs. Simile... Which is which?

So what's the difference between a metaphor and a simile?  They both serve the same purpose and act an an analogy between two things that are, by all means, not alike.

For example:

The cloud was as puffy as a cotton ball.
The cloud was a cotton ball in the sky.
The cloud was like a cotton ball.


But which is which?  A metaphor compares two unlike things without using "like" or "as".  Both of these words indicate you're looking at a simile.  So in the example above, the middle phrase The cloud was a cotton ball in the sky is the metaphor.  The other two are both similes.

Metaphors tend to be more vague, requiring the reader to infer more into the meaning, while a simile is supposedly more specific.

For example, you can use a simile to express irony:

Her feet were as fast as cement blocks.

However, the same idea with a metaphor is relatively not as clear, and certainly not at all ironic:
Her feet were cement blocks.

While it may not really matter which is which since they both serve a similar purpose in the end, it can be nice to know the difference at dinner parties if you plan on impressing your friends!