Is it possible to have a simile that does not contain the words 'like' or 'as'?

Would the following sentence exemplify such a simile?:

"He was handsome in a way that required a bit of work from the viewer."

Or is this a metaphor?

  • 4
    It's neither a metaphor nor a simile. You aren't comparing (simile) nor equating (metaphor) his handsomeness to some other thing. – John Feltz Dec 14 '16 at 4:19
  • Just take any simile with “like” and replace it with “in the same way that” – Jim Dec 14 '16 at 7:49
  • @Jim can you give an example of a simile in which that replacement works? I can't think of one. In particular, I am thinking of "she was like a breath of fresh air." The resulting she was in the same way that a breath of fresh air makes no sense. How about "she ran like the wind"? Close, but not quite: she ran in the same way that the wind makes no sense, but you can make is grammatical by adding another verb: she ran in the same way that the wind runs. It's grammatical but still nonsensical. – phoog Dec 14 '16 at 14:10
  • His face was a full moon of shininess. Her hands were butterflies on the piano keys. Your questions are fireflies in the night. Her honesty was a beacon in the night. Her voice rang shrilly down the hall. Those are examples of metaphors. Comparing things to other things without like or as. – Lambie Dec 14 '16 at 14:11
  • I'm with phoog. In spite of all Lambie's efforts, I don't think there's any difference at all between 'His face was a full moon of shininess' and 'His face was like a full moon of shininess'. If the question was really on a level that made that difference worth noting, what was the point, please? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 31 '16 at 1:25

If you are simply looking for a way to express that something is like something else in some way, without using the word like or as, I think Jim's comment from a couple of months ago is on point. For example, instead of saying

He was as wild as the west wind.

you could say

He was wild in the same way that the west wind is wild.

or (somewhat differently)

His wildness was the wildness of the west wind.

In neither case is the reader likely to take literally the assertion that a person's wildness and a wind's wildness are really the same. Instead the reader will be inclined to read the asserted sameness as a simile-like likeness.

Similarly, if you reword

He was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.


He was running around the way a chicken with its head cut off might have done.

you express the same idea of similarity without using like or as.

Usually, the like or as form is less long-winded and thus more appealing to the reader's or listener's ear because it's more concise. But if the task is to express the substance of a simile without using like or as, it can certainly be done by using some form "in the same way that" or "the way."

Having said that, I agree with John Feltz's comment that

He was handsome in a way that required a bit of work from the viewer.

is neither a simile nor a metaphor. And neither is

He was as handsome as he could be, given that he depended on the lively imagination of others to make him seem attractive.

  • +1 but perhaps we should up the ante and add "way" to "like" and "as". – Spencer Feb 14 '17 at 12:37

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