Most lists of similes online and in textbooks contain outdated expressions. In response, we’ve compiled this list of 50 popular similes to show you examples that are still commonly used in modern English today. For each simile, we have given its meaning and an example. Check out the quiz at the end to test your knowledge!
What is a simile?
A simile describes one thing by comparing it to something else using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’. For example, As fresh as a daisy. In everyday spoken English, we usually drop the first ‘as’, so the simile shortens to just e.g. Fresh as a daisy. Do not confuse these expressions with normal metaphors that do not contain ‘as’ or ‘like’.
List of 50 most common similes (with meanings & examples)
When you stay away from someone or something as much as possible for negative reasons.
A: Did you do your revision?
B: No, I hate revising. I’ve been avoiding it like the plague!
When someone cannot see very well.
I’m as blind as a bat! I thought I saw someone I knew and waved at them, but it turned out it was a complete stranger!
When you refer to someone as being clever.
Simon got a job at NASA. Bright as a button, that guy!
We use this to refer to something very inexpensive. It literally means the item we are buying is more or less the same price as a portion of chips (or French fries as Americans say).
Happy days! Got these earrings for five quid in the sales – cheap as chips, mate!
This can mean physically very clean and tidy or “clean” in the sense of 100% legal (not dodgy or against the law).
I’ve scrubbed the house from top to bottom. Clean as whistle now!
Used ironically to mean something is extremely unclear in meaning.
I tried reading Dante’s Inferno the other day. It was about as clear as mud!
Used to describe someone who does not get easily stressed out. They remain calm even when under pressure.
Imagine your boss has given you and your colleagues a deadline in five minutes. You panic, but one of your colleagues remains calm. You could say that person is ‘cool as a cucumber’.
This is a funny expression from the north of England. It means someone extremely foolish and silly.
A: Did you see Steve wearing that massive hat down the pub the other night?
B: Yeah, that lad’s daft as a brush, mate!
This is similar to the meaning of ‘as blind as a bat’, but for hearing instead. It means when someone’s hearing is very bad.
I called Mark’s name three times, but he didn’t hear me. He’s as deaf as a post!
To regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
One stereotype of Brits is that they drink like fish.
A morbid simile. It means when living beings die in their masses (many die). This can also be used to say many people are ill or out of action.
Half of my colleagues are off work with flu. We’re dropping like flies!
To refer to something being completely dry.
I haven’t watered my pot plants in ages and the soil is as dry as a bone.
When something is very easy or simple to do.
I managed to do this week’s crossword in under 5 minutes. It was easy as ABC!
To eat food in an unpleasant or messy manner.
I love my husband to bits (very much), but he eats like a pig sometimes!
When you feel extremely ill or sick. Like with food, the idea is that you feel like death (bad), but then reheated (even worse).
I got a really bad cold two days ago and felt like death warmed up.
When clothing is exactly the right size for you and fits perfectly.
I bought myself a new suit and it fits me like a glove.
To look and feel healthy and full of energy.
A: Heard you had a good one down the pub the other night.
B: Haha, yep. Fresh as a daisy now though, mate!
When people get on extremely well, have a lot in common, are good friends.
I haven’t known Diana for long, but we get on like a house on fire. We’re similar in many ways.
When you or someone else says or writes something that is negatively received by others. This usually happens when someone tells a bad joke that other people find offensive.
I told my mum your joke about the nun and the toilet. It went down like a lead balloon!
This can be a positive or a negative thing. Positively, it means when someone falls asleep quickly. Negatively, it means to lose consciousness or get knocked out fast.
I envy Kendra. I take hours to get to sleep, but as soon as her head hits the pillow, she’s out like a light!
Did you see the boxing match last night? Strong left hook and Khan was out like a light!
When you or someone else is very well behaved. This is usually used for pets or small children. For adults it is a bit patronising.
Your son is as good as gold. Mine’s a cheeky monkey most of the time!
A person who is physically tough, strong, good in a fight. Can also refer to being mentally tough or resilient.
Alison is hard as nails. She didn’t even cry when she watched Titanic! (Joke)
To be incredibly forgetful to the point when someone says something to you and a short while later, you cannot remember what they said.
A: Hi, what’s your name?
*5 minutes later*
A: Hi, what’s your name?
B: Alan…I told you 5 minutes ago!
A: Sorry, I have a memory like a sieve.
Intoxicated on drugs. Used when the person being described is “very high”.
I saw a homeless guy outside the supermarket the other day. I don’t know what he was on, but he was high as a kite!
When someone has a big personality. Imagine a room and when someone enters, their presence changes the room’s atmosphere. This is considered a positive thing. We usually use the comparative form larger than life.
The party was a bit dull until Sarah arrived. That woman is larger than life!
This has two meanings. The first is when someone is very clumsy and causes damage accidentally. The second is when someone is tactless and enters a situation in an angry mood. Here the word “china” does not refer to the country; it means the delicate material traditionally used to make plates and teacups.
How many plates have you broken this week? You’re like a bull in a china shop!
Don’t send Sally to smooth things over with the boss. She’s like a bull in a china shop!
When someone is unfamiliar with their surroundings or is uncomfortable in a situation.
When I first moved to Spain I found it really hard to make friends. I felt like a fish out of water.
If you do something that provokes someone or makes them very angry.
Jimmy stealing Ted’s chocolate was like a red rag to a bull. Those kids are always fighting!
When two people are completely different. Think the exact opposite i.e. salt and pepper or black and white.
I don’t understand how Rob and Julie are still married. Those two are like chalk and cheese!
This refers to something being extremely easy to do, usually involving some form of manipulation.
A: I advertised my consultancy work as a “VIP service” and charged clients double.
B: Like taking candy from a baby, mate!
Meaning that two people are very similar to each other in either character, appearance or both. The opposite of chalk and cheese.
Tommy and Timmy are like two peas in a pod. Their names even sound alike!
When something is very boring. It cannot be used to describe a person.
I went to see a cricket match on Sunday. It was like watching paint dry!
Refers to a potentially hurtful comment or situation that has no effect on the person (because he/she is resilient or ignores it).
I’ve told my son off so many times about coming home late, but it’s like water off a duck’s back.
Bonkers, mental, nuts…these adjectives and this simile are all synonyms for ‘crazy’.
Dave went out in a snowstorm wearing only shorts yesterday. That man is as mad as a hatter!
A person who is very quiet or doesn’t like to talk at all.
Lucy doesn’t like meetings. She usually just sits there quiet as a mouse.
When something is repeated regularly at the same time.
For some reason, I get a headache every morning at 10am for a whole hour. It’s as regular as clockwork.
To be perfectly healthy and well.
I had a meeting with my doctor and she said I was as right as rain.
We use this to refer to a person who is doing something in a rushed, disorganised and illogical way.
Daniel is really struggling as my Personal Assistant. He has no order to his day and is constantly running around like a headless chicken!
To be very safe or dependable.
While some investments are risky, I believe BP shares are safe as houses this year.
Brits use this when we feel highly disappointed in something or are physically ill.
I’ve been in bed with food poisoning all weekend. I feel sick as a parrot!
When you have a brilliant night’s sleep.
I slept for 9 hours last night and it was great. I slept like a log.
Think of the most comfortable situation ever. We use this simile to express that.
I was sitting in my comfy armchair with the rain outside, the fire blazing and a hot cup of tea – snug as a bug in a rug!
To be completely different from the crowd and therefore be very noticeable.
Everyone in the class had normal coloured hair, except Amy who dyed hers green. She stuck out like a sore thumb.
When you are so sweaty that touching your skin feels wet.
I’m sweating like a pig today! It must be 40 degrees outside.
This simile describes someone as being very stupid.
I really like Ross, but he is as thick as two short planks. He thought Rome was the capital of Croatia!
To be extremely close to another person or group of people. This is often associated with shared secrets and naughty behaviour.
John and Alfie are always getting into trouble at school. Thick as thieves, those two!
When someone is very strong either mentally or physically.
My granddad survived two world wars. He was as tough as old boots.
This describes a person’s face as going unnaturally white when they are scared or ill.
When I jumped out from under the bed, my daughter went white as a sheet! She doesn’t like my daddy pranks.
When something works out perfectly and better than anticipated.
When I first met my wife, I told her she had beautiful eyes. Bit of a cliché, but it worked like a charm!
To work very hard, slave away on something, graft. Can be associated with exploitation when you work hard for little reward.
I’ve been working like a dog this past year, but I still don’t have enough cash for a decent holiday.
1-c, 2-b, 3-a, 4-a, 5-b, 6-a, 7-c, 8-c, 9-a, 10-a
Want to improve your vocabulary for work? In this study guide, our experienced UK accountant and English teacher Kevin Simmons will walk you through the most useful business idioms. We’ve included a list of 45 idioms with clear definitions and examples to help you feel confident with your business English. Let’s go! Continue reading
Want to improve your vocabulary for accounting? In this study guide, our experienced UK accountant and English teacher Kevin Simmons will walk you through the most useful vocabulary. We’ve included a list of 45 terms with clear definitions and examples in context to help you feel confident when doing accountancy in English. Ready? Let’s jump right in! Continue reading