This Master Class website says that

A simile is a type of metaphor. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.

  1. Is this true? Can anyone cite an official textbook?

  2. Please explain why some metaphors AREN'T similes like I'm 10? I never studied linguistics, literature, or literary theory. I read the following posts on ELU: Similes and Metaphors - are similes a subset of metaphors?, The difference between an analogy and a metaphor?, Are analogies and metaphors both forms of comparison, with analogies being analytical thinking and metaphors being creative or lateral thinking?, Is this an analogy or metaphor or what?. But most of these answers are too esoteric for me!

  3. Can you answer my question 2 using diagrams or pictures like these?

2 way Venn diagram for Analogy-ness and Literal-ness where the overlap is Simile, and a part of Analogy-ness including the overlap is Metaphor. Conceit is in a separate above circle.

Source: Analogy vs Metaphor vs Simile on Metamia.com.

3 way Venn diagram for simile, metaphor, and analogy

Simile vs. Metaphor vs. Analogy: Definitions and Examples by Sean Glatch on Writers.com.

  • 1
    Could you please add a proper text alternative to your images. The current text alternative for both images says, "enter image description here", which is totally useless to blind people.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 10:23
  • 1
    What do you mean by an "official" textbook? In some sense every textbook ever used is "official".
    – bobble
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 13:50

3 Answers 3

  1. It doesn't make sense to say that a definition is true or false. It is clear from the links you've provided that some people use the words metaphor and simile with these meanings. Other people use the words differently, giving them definitions which do not overlap. Neither use is correct or incorrect.

  2. Using the definition provided in your first link, a metaphor is a comparison of two different things. A simile is a special kind of metaphor, which compares two different things using the words like or as.

    For example: All the world is a stage is a metaphor because it compares the world and a stage. It is not a simile because it does not use the word like or as.

    To make the metaphor all the world is a stage into a simile, we would add like: all the world is like a stage

Two concentric circles - the larger circle is labeled "Metaphor" and contains the text, "Compares two or more different things. 'Life is a box of chocolates'".  The inner circle is labeled "Simile" and contains the text, "Uses the words 'like' or 'and'. 'Life if like a box of chocolates'"

  • 1
    Please bear in mind that the question asker is looking for more authoritative sources than those they cited in the question ("Can anyone cite an official textbook?"). Could you please add sources to your answer?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:15

According to dictionaries of literary terms, both similes and metaphors are figures of speech, but similes are usually not considered a subset of metaphors. The difference is that similes make an explicit comparison, whereas metaphors don't. Below are a few sources:

The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J. A. Cuddon (third edition. Penguin, 1992):

metaphor (…) A figure of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another. The basic figure in poetry. A comparison is usually implicit; whereas in simile it is explicit.

The following lines from R. S. Thomas's Song at the Year's Turning contain several metaphors but (based on Cuddon's distinction) no similes:

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble. The familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart's flower withers at the root.
Bury it, then, in history's sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.

Cuddon's entry for simile contains the following statements:

It is an explicit comparison (as opposed to the metaphor, where the comparison is implicit) recognizable by the use of the words 'like' or 'as'.

Cuddon gives the following example from Graham Greene's Stamboul Train:

The great blast furnaces of Liège rose along the line like ancient castles burning in a border raid.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms by Chris Baldick (second edition. Oxford University Press, 2001) contains the following definition of metaphor:

the most important and widespread figure of speech, in which one thing, idea, or action is referred to by a word or expression normally denoting another thing, idea, or action, so as to suggest some common quality shared by the two. In metaphor, this resemblance is assumed as an imaginary identity rather than directly stated as a comparison: referring to a man as that pig, or saying he is a pig is metaphorical, whereas he is like a pig is a simile. (…)

Baldick also gives the following definition of simile:

an explicit comparison between two different things, actions, or feelings, using the words 'as' or 'like', as in Wordsworth's line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

A very common figure of speech in both prose and verse, simile is more tentative and decorative than metaphor. (…)

Einübung in die Literaturwissenschaft by Harald Fricke and Rüdiger Zymner (Schöningh, 1991) makes the same distinction, as can be seen from the following examples:

  • "Du bist ein Esel" ("You are an ass") is given as an example of a metaphor (page 44).
  • The following sentences are given as examples of similes (German: "Vergleich", page 52):
    • "Eine Frau ohne Mann ist so komplett wie ein Fisch ohne Fahrrad" ("A woman without a man is as complete as a fish without a bike").
    • "Eine Frau ohne Mann ist wie ein Fisch ohne Fahrrad" ("A woman without a man is like a fish without a bike").

These are three examples of textbooks that make the same distinction between metaphor and simile; based on this, a simile is not a type of metaphor.


Metaphors and similes are both figures of speech that make comparisons, but they do so in different ways. A simile uses the words "like" or "as" to make a comparison explicit. For instance, saying "Her smile is like sunshine" is a simile because it directly compares a smile to sunshine using "like."

On the other hand, a metaphor makes a comparison without using "like" or "as," suggesting that one thing is another. When you say "Her smile is sunshine," you're using a metaphor. This implies that her smile is as bright and warm as sunshine, without saying it directly.

So, while all similes are types of metaphors (since they both make comparisons), not all metaphors are similes. Metaphors can be more direct and often more powerful because they imply that two things are the same rather than just similar.

  • 1
    Isn't this answer self-contradictory?  Its first two paragraphs define the terms in a way that makes them incompatible (a figure of speech can't both include and not include the word ‘like’ or ‘as’, and so nothing can satisfy both definitions simultaneously) — yet its last paragraph then requires them to be compatible.
    – gidds
    Commented May 16 at 12:25

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