Introduction to Figurative Language: Similes

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10454

Does your writing seem as lifeless as a rock? It's time to learn about similes and how they make your words sparkle like diamonds! Using examples and an online quiz, learn to recognize and use similes



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Do you think the boy really eats like a horse? Is it possible for a human child to be as skinny as a rail?

Figurative language

  • Do you think the boy really eats like a horse?
  • Is it possible for a human child to be as skinny as a rail?

Of course not! A horse eats fifteen to twenty pounds of hay each day. A horse also eats standing on all four legs and eats out of a trough or bucket. Human bones alone are typically thicker than an average rail.

  • So what do all these things in the example mean?

The example is called a simile, and sayings such as these are not meant to be taken literally, or word-for-word, by their dictionary definition.

What is a simile?

A simile is a type of figurate language. Figurative language is a way of speaking or writing that is not meant to be taken literally and is used for effect, or to give what we have to say a little more "zing."

Similes take two unrelated items, like a boy and a horse, and compare them using the words "like" or "as." The two unlike items must share some characteristics, although the characteristics are usually exaggerated in order for the simile to be meaningful.

  • So, what does it mean to "eat like a horse?"

Well, given the fact that a horse eats more than fifteen pounds of food a day, to say someone eats like a horse means that he eats a lot!

Another example of a simile is "as skinny as a rail," which simply means that someone is very thin.

Take the similes out of the example from earlier in this lesson and see how it sounds without them:

Example For someone who eats like a horse, you are very thin.

Literal meaning For someone who eats a lot, you are very thin.

The second example just doesn't have the pop of the original sentence, and that's exactly why we use similes in our writing.

Here are a few more examples

She went as white as a sheet when she was asked to sing in front of the large group.

We know that it is near to impossible for a person to turn pure white; however, this statement may mean that the person turned very pale.

He ran as fast as the wind.

Again, unless the wind is blowing very slowly, we interpret this to mean that he ran extremely fast.

Where can you find similes?

You can find similes in just about any type of writing because they are used to add to the reader's experience. Cliché, or commonly-used, similes using "as" or "like" are used in everyday writing and speech. Take some time to listen and pay attention while reading to look for common similes. Print the Similes  document from Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar to see a whole list. You will use this in the Got It? section. You can also make up your own similes. As long as you can explain their meaning and they make logical sense, you're good to go. For example, His eyes were as green and wild as a lush jungle.

Run like the wind to the Got It? section for some practice.

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