Similes and Metaphors: What’s the Difference?

Similes and Metaphors: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a simile and a metaphor and how to use them in writing? If you’re an editor, particularly of creative writing and fiction, it’s important to know the difference between these two literary devices so that you can advise your client on when to use them – and when to avoid them. Keep reading to learn more about similes and metaphors and how to address them when editing.


Similes are a type of figurative language used to enhance imagery in writing. They compare two dissimilar things using “like” or “as.” For example:

  After a long day at work, she slept like a baby.

  Life is like a box of chocolates.

  The new car sparkled as bright as a diamond.

  You are as cute as a baby kitten.

In these examples, a comparison is drawn between two fundamentally unalike things to make an impact on the reader. The writer is not suggesting that the new car is actually a diamond – they are using a simile to help the reader visualize it. 

A tip for editing similes: the reader should be able to understand the basis for the comparison. Instead of invoking vibrant imagery, a simile comparing things that are too dissimilar will only perplex the reader.


Metaphors are another device that authors (especially of fiction and creative writing) use to draw comparisons between essentially unrelated things, but they don’t include “like” or “as” in their descriptions. Metaphors are slightly stronger comparisons – instead of saying that something is like something else, they state outright that something is something else. For example:

  Doctors and nurses are superheroes. 

  The snow was a white blanket covering the city.

  Time is money.

Like similes, metaphors are clearly drawing a comparison and are not meant to be taken literally. As an editor, you may occasionally encounter what’s known as a “mixed metaphor,” which is the combination of two distinct metaphors, and it may produce a somewhat comical effect. A good example of a mixed metaphor is:

Finish your homework – it’s not rocket surgery.

This example combines two well-known and similar metaphors: comparing tasks to either “brain surgery” or “rocket science.” If you notice a mixed metaphor in a client’s writing, it may be there for comedic effect. But if you suspect the author is using it unintentionally, it’s best to flag it with a comment.

Similes and Metaphors in Writing

Both similes and metaphors are common in writing, and when used correctly, they can add richness and emotional depth to the imagery of a story. There are many famous examples of these devices in writing, such as this first line in a speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

  “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

As an editor, the important thing to consider is how similes and metaphors fit the overall style and tone of the document you’re working on. Pay attention to whether a writer is overusing them and, if they are, flag the issue with a sensitively written comment. While similes and metaphors have their place in writing, readers can quickly become bored or confused if these devices are overused.

In Summary: Similes and Metaphors

While similes and metaphors are both figures of speech used to draw comparisons, the key difference is that similes do this using “like” or “as,” while metaphors draw a direct comparison between two things. 

As an editor, it’s important that you know the difference between them, especially if you’re working with fiction or creative writing. And if you notice your client is misusing similes or metaphors – or overusing them, especially ones considered to be cliché – then be sure to flag the issue for their review.

Becoming An Editor

If you’re interested in learning more about how to edit fiction and creative writing, consider taking our Becoming An Editor course. It includes a module dedicated to the use of literary devices, and it covers all the skills you’ll need to launch your editing business.

And if you pass our Becoming A Proofreader and Becoming An Editor courses with a distinction score of at least 80%, you’re guaranteed work with our partner company, Proofed. Sign up for a free trial today!

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