Using a Metaphor, Simile, or Other Figure of Speech in Your Essay

When writing an essay, you may decide to use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech to describe something. Figures of speech also can call attention to an idea or compare two similar things. Using figures of speech can embellish, polish, or emphasize specific points.

Types of Essays

Figures of speech can be used in some expository essays. Expository essays can tell how to do something. They can also compare, contrast, review, define, or explain a cause and its effect. You may also write a persuasive essay in which you try to influence your reader to accept your point of view to do something. Another popular essay type is the narrative in which you tell a story with a point. However, figures of speech are not always appropriate, for example in research papers. Ask your professor how he or she feels about the use of figurative language in specific types of essays.

  • Simile. Similes use the words like or as when they compare things.
  • Her brown and beige scarf looks like a beehive dripping with honey.

    In this case you are making a comparison between two things that aren’t alike, a scarf and a beehive. However, you are also saying they are alike in some way, in this case color and shape.

    My essay is as polished as fine silver.

    Your essay and fine silver may not look alike. The sentence above says that someone has worked and reworked and polished his essay, and now it shines with accomplishment.

  • Metaphor. Metaphors compare two things but do not use the words as or like.
  • My office is alive with bulldozers and earth moving equipment.

    Of course, your office is not really alive, but the noise and vibration of the big machines nearby makes you feel as if the room is living and making lots of noise.

    The classroom is a tomb on the day before holidays.

    The classroom is not a tomb, but so many students skip class the day before a holiday begins that the classroom feels dead.

  • Personification. The other type of figurative language used frequently is personification which attributes human traits to non-human things or beings.
  • The storm was an angry old bull of a man screaming and shaking his fists at his neighbors.

    The storm cannot feel anger, but even so, you can understand what kind of storm the writer is describing.

    The birch tree in the front yard of my parents’ home waved its arms to me when I came home from college.

    The tree does not have arms nor can it wave as humans do.

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