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50 Examples Of Popular English Similes (We Still Use Now)

Most lists of similes online and in textbooks contain outdated expressions.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!

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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)

1. Avoid like the plague

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!

2. Blind as a bat

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!

3. Bright as a button

When you refer to someone as being clever.

Simon got a job at NASA. Bright as a button, that guy!

We can also use the noun bright button as in: My daughter’s a bright button. The opposite would be not the sharpest tool in the box.
4. Cheap as chips

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!

5. Clean as a whistle

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!

6. Clear as mud

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!

7. Cool as a cucumber

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’.

8. Daft as a brush

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!

9. Deaf as a post

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!

10. Drink like a fish

To regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

One stereotype of Brits is that they drink like fish.

11. Drop like flies

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!

12. Dry as a bone

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.

13. Easy as ABC

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!

Similes with the same meaning include easy as pie and like riding a bike (about habits). In British slang, we can also say a piece of piss to mean something is very easy to do – e.g. That Maths exam the other week was a piece of piss.
14. Eat like a pig

To eat food in an unpleasant or messy manner.

I love my husband to bits (very much), but he eats like a pig sometimes!

15. Feel like death warmed up

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.

16. Fit like a glove

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.

17. Fresh as a daisy

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!

18. Get on like a house on fire

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.

19. Go down like a lead balloon

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!

20. Go out like a light

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!

21. Good as gold

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! 

Brits often use funny names to describe kids and their behaviour. For example, cheeky monkey (naughty), silly sausage (messing around), Little Lord Fauntleroy (privileged, expecting others to do all the work for them).
22. Hard as nails

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)

23. Have a memory like a sieve

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?

B: Alan

*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.

24. High as a kite

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!

25. Large as life

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!

26. Like a bull in a china shop

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!

27. Like a fish out of water

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.

28. Like a red rag to a bull

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!

29. Like chalk and cheese

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!

30. Like taking candy from a baby

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!

31. Like two peas in a pod

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!

32. Like watching paint dry

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!

33. Like water off a duck’s back

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.

34. Mad as a hatter

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!

The simile Mad as a hatter has an interesting history! It originated in Manchester in 1829 in a part of the city famous for its hat-making business. This work involved the use of mercury, a toxic metal that can cause symptoms similar to madness when absorbed into the body through frequent contact over time.
35. Quiet as a mouse

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.

36. Regular as clockwork

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.

37. Right as rain

To be perfectly healthy and well.

I had a meeting with my doctor and she said I was as right as rain.

You may know the simile As fit as a fiddle, which has the same meaning as the one above. However, this expression is rather outdated now. Be careful to only learn and use similes that are still popular today…like the ones on this list!
38. Run around like a headless chicken

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!

39. Safe as houses

To be very safe or dependable.

While some investments are risky, I believe BP shares are safe as houses this year.

40. Sick as a parrot

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!

41. Sleep like a log

When you have a brilliant night’s sleep.

I slept for 9 hours last night and it was great. I slept like a log.

42. Snug as a bug in a rug

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!

43. Stick out like a sore thumb

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.

44. Sweat like a pig

When you are so sweaty that touching your skin feels wet.

I’m sweating like a pig today! It must be 40 degrees outside.

As you can see from this list, English has lots of funny similes. Another good example is: About as much use as a chocolate fireguard. This means ‘completely useless’. Obviously, the heat from the fire would melt the chocolate. E.g. A car in Venice is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard!
45. Thick as two short planks

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!

46. Thick as thieves

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!

47. Tough as old boots

When someone is very strong either mentally or physically.

My granddad survived two world wars. He was as tough as old boots.

48. White as a sheet

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.

49. Work like a charm

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!

50. Work like a dog

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.

English similes: Exercises

  1. How would we describe a person who is well-behaved?
    a. As good as bronze
    b. As good as silver
    c. As good as gold
  2. When we refer to something inexpensive, we say…
    a. It cost an arm and a leg
    b. It is as cheap as chips
    c. It is as cheap as dirt
  3. Mary and Jessica are very close. They are like two peas in a pod. This means…
    a. Mary and Jessica are very similar
    b. Mary and Jessica are sisters
    c. Mary and Jessica are vegetarians
  4. Liam is not clever at all. How would we describe him?
    a. He is as thick as two short planks
    b. He is as thick as two long planks
    c. He is thick as thieves
  5. What simile do we use when we have a good night’s sleep?
    a. Sleep like a cloud
    b. Sleep like a log
    c. Sleep like a cat
  6. Which simile has two meanings?
    a. Like a bull in a china shop
    b. Avoid like the plague
    c. Like watching paint dry
  7. What simile is the opposite of two peas in a pod?
    a. Safe as houses
    b. Bright as a button
    c. Like chalk and cheese
  8. If you have both terrible hearing and eyesight, which two similes can be used to describe you?
    a. Blind as a bug, deaf as a post
    b. Blind as a bat, deaf as a mole
    c. Blind as a bat, deaf as a post
  9. How would you describe two people who have a good relationship?
    a. They get on like a house on fire
    b. They get on like a home on fire
    c. They get on like wood on fire
  10. Someone who is calm in all situations is…
    a. As cool as a cucumber
    b. As cool as a cabbage
    c. As cool as a carrot
Answers:

1-c, 2-b, 3-a, 4-a, 5-b, 6-a, 7-c, 8-c, 9-a, 10-a

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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Jessica L.
— ESL Tutor.
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