Painting with Words: Metaphors & Similes

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I first studied metaphors and similes when I took English literature in high school in Manchester, England. Ms McGowan, my lovely English teacher, introduced us to these rhetorical devices in novels like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and plays like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

Despite being rather quiet in a classroom filled with native English speakers, I fell in love with the language and began expressing myself by volunteering to read aloud in class and writing in my spare time. (I wrote silly short stories, of course!)

I remember thinking what a powerful communicator I could be if I could express myself so creatively, vividly, and beautifully using metaphors and similes.   

This inspired me to discuss metaphors and similes. You can listen to or watch the episodes here. 

You can also listen to these episodes on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Using Metaphors

So what is a metaphor? 

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things or concepts, highlighting a particular similarity or resemblance. In other words, a metaphor can be used to express things in terms of another. It adds more depth, vividness, and imagery to language. In communication, you can use it to convey a deeper meaning or create a powerful visual or emotional impact.

Here’s an example from To Kill a Mockingbird:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

The character Atticus uses this metaphor to encourage his daughter to empathise with others and gain a deeper understanding of their experiences.

Metaphors are not just in novels. They are part of everyday speech too. For example, many common English words referring to responsibilities are metaphorical.

  • I have to bear the responsibility for this.
  • The responsibility was weighing on my mind.
  • I don’t want to be a burden to you.

Source: Macmillan Dictionary 

The key idea is that having responsibility is like carrying a load: the bigger the responsibility, the heavier the load.

Using Similes

As for a simile, (which I explore here in this episode), it is another figure of speech that compares two things using the words “like” or “as” to establish a resemblance or similarity between them. It is also a literary device that aids in creating vivid descriptions, emphasising certain qualities, and adding depth to language. Here are popular (but overused English similes):

  • He is as brave as a lion.
  • The little girl was as sweet as sugar.
  • Her hands were as cold as ice.

When studying Macbeth, I found this simile interesting:

“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t”.

Lady Macbeth is advising Macbeth to appear innocent like a flower while being deceitful and dangerous like a serpent. It sounded so powerful to me when I read this line aloud in class! (I did find playing characters took me out of my shell!)

Now, as you listen to the episodes, come up with examples of metaphors and similes on your own. Also, keep a lookout for more everyday metaphors and similes you can use in your life as you explore the English language further. I believe your vocabulary will be richer for it, and you will transform into a more persuasive and nuanced communicator.

Until our next class then!


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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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