Categories: Language Lab

English grammar explained: similes and metaphors

Every now and then I can tell that a student in class is frozen with fear. They have taken their courage in their hands and entered class, but now they feel tongue-tied, unable to say anything. Other times you enter class and it is a breeze, crystal clear and taking part is a piece of cake. You make a huge leap forward or have a light bulb moment. You are no longer clueless, wondering around in the dark, you are an effective English communicator.

Learning a language is about learning the words, the grammar, but it is also learning about how people communicate. People do not use literal language a lot of the time, they use similes and metaphors, they use language creatively. Once you are familiar with the language, similes and metaphors can be enriching, but for students they can be scary and frustrating as translating them word to word will often not reveal their meaning. However, bit by bit, through joining in with the spoken classes you will hear more of these metaphors in context and that will help their meaning become clear.

Similes are a figure of speech directly comparing two different things using words like ‘as’ and ‘like’ so you could say “learning English is like wading through toffee” when it is difficult or that it is “smooth as silk”, when it is easy. Similes can be used in all sorts of situations, they add colour to language and meaning.

With metaphors the comparison is implicit, rather than explicit so the listener or reader has to work more to find the meaning, for example:

“Her hair is black as jet.”
“Jet black tendrils encased her face.”

Creative writing often uses a lot of metaphors. For example, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket, “ according to George Orwell, while on a more positive note, Proust says, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy they are charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Some metaphors are so successful that they become commonplace, such as: “All the world’s a stage,” “You are the sunshine of my life”, “Time is a thief.” If a metaphor or simile is over used though it can become cliched like, “She is as old as the hills” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

But while you are learning English it is good to learn a few common similes and metaphors as they will help you sound familiar with the language so have a look at the following examples and see if you can use them in a sentence.

“I am rushed for time today.”
“ is the best thing since sliced bread.”
“I try to look on the bright side.”
“It’s the bees’ knees.”

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Published by Helen

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