Rhetorical Device: Simile

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things using comparison words such as "like" or "as".

A simile is considered to be a type of metaphor. As with metaphors, similes can be broken down into two elements: a tenor and a vehicle.

  • The tenor is the thing being described
  • The vehicle is the thing to which the tenor is compared


Note: some of the following examples are also analogies (when the comparison is explicitly explained)

A woman is like a teabag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water. Eleanor Roosevelt

You are like a hurricane: there's calm in your eye, but I'm getting blown awayNeil Young, "Like a Hurricane" (song: 1977)

We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream" (28 August 1963)
WeWriteSpeeches rhetorical device explainer card on simile

America is not like a blanket -- one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt. Jesse Jackson, "1984 Democratic National Convention Address" (18 July 1984)

We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools. Woodrow Wilson, "War Message to Congress" (2 April 1917)

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night:
Duty, Honor, Country. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, "Sylvanus Thayer Award Acceptance Address" (12 May 1962)

I'm a singer. You know what a singer is. A singer is someone with a hole in his heart almost as big as the size of his ego. When you need 20,000 people screaming your name in order to feel good about your day, you know you're a singer. Bono, "2001 Harvard University Class Day Address" (6 June 2001)

Further reading

  • Exploring Simile in Political Speeches through Corpus Techniques Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard: "Simile Definition and Examples", ThoughtCo Visit
  • Grammarly: Simile Visit