Similes, Metaphors, Analogies, Allegories, and Alligators: Learn the Difference

The English language is chock-full of ways to compare one thing to another. And that's a good thing, because the need to explain unfamiliar concepts and the desire to describe things more clearly both require a lot of comparisons.
But how can you choose which method is best? Our helpful guide to similes, metaphors, and more will help you tell the difference between them with simple explanations and famous examples from classic literature and beyond.

1. Similes

You probably use similes every day without even thinking about it. It is one of the most common forms of comparison and one of the most simple to use. Fittingly, the word "simile" comes from a Latin word meaning "something similar."

What is a simile?

A simile is a figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by "like" or "as."
Because similes typically use "like" or "as," these comparisons are usually more explicit than in a metaphor.

Famous examples of similes

2. Metaphors

Metaphors are nearly ubiquitous in literature, film, and other works of art, but they can take many different forms—some of which you may not even notice at first!

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another.
That sounds a lot like a simile, but there's one key difference.

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?

Whereas a simile states that A is like B, a metaphor states that A is B or substitutes B for A. Some metaphors are explicit, like Shakespeare's famous line

3. Analogies

Pop quiz:
Quack is to Duck as Meow is to ________.
Anyone preparing for a standardized test is familiar with analogy questions, which require the taker to fill in one missing word out of a pair that will reflect the same relationship as a given example. The missing word in the example above is "Cat."
Confused? Don't be. Analogies are actually much simpler than you think, and you probably use them all the time.

What is an analogy?

An analogy is a similarity between like features of two (otherwise dissimilar) things, on which a comparison may be based.

Examples of analogies

The number of possible analogies is endless, and some analogies have become very familiar.

4. Allegories

Less common than similes, metaphors, and analogies, an allegory is a more specific type of comparison. You have may have heard this term used to describe a novel or film, but do you know exactly what it means?

What is an allegory?

An allegory is the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
In an allegory, the story serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions.

Allegory vs. Metaphor

5. Alligators

Alligators are large semiaquatic reptiles, not to be confused with crocodiles, which have longer, narrower snouts, and have nothing to do with figures of speech, unless you're talking about "crocodile tears," which is an idiom meaning false tears, or an insincere display of grief.
The expression reportedly originated with a 14th-century adventurer named Sir John Mandeville, who reported that crocodiles attract their prey's sympathy by weeping and then continued to cry while consuming their victims.
Shakespeare referred to such a belief in Othello: "O devil, devil! If that the earth could teem with woman's tears, / Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile." An alternate explanation is that since those reptiles cannot cry, then crocodile tears are nonexistent shows of emotion. However, zoologists tell us that crocodiles do in fact have functional tear ducts, although with no emotional connection.
Now that you're up to your neck in alligators, analogies, similes, and metaphors, you can learn more about idioms here.
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