Business English Quick Tips: metaphors and similes


Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Metaphors and similes

Metaphors and similes are useful figures of speech, but they are like a hot condiment you put on your food: a little is great but too much can ruin it!

Basically they are comparisons in which you describe your subject by likening it to something else – usually something bizarre and/or unexpected – rather than just using an adjective to describe it.

A metaphor achieves the same objective, but without using “as” or “like”:

After the meeting, the Chairman snorted and stamped his feet with rage

She sat down at her desk, flopping childishly into the chair

Unlike similes which are easy to pick out, metaphors can be a little more obscure. If you’re unsure about whether an expression is a metaphor or not, perform a reality check: would this happen in real life? If the answer’s no, then that’s a metaphor.

A simile is one of these comparisons that uses the words “as” or “like” for a link:

After the meeting, the Chairman was as an angry as a bull in full charge

She sat down at her desk abruptly, like a child playing musical chairs

With similes, you can tell right away that the comparison is not meant literally.

Watch out for clichés

Of course metaphors and similes are very useful to make your writing more interesting and enjoyable to read. The downside is that many popular business and social clichés are either metaphors or similes! For example:


Getting all your ducks in a row

Thinking outside the box

Low-hanging fruit

Push the envelope

Let’s hit the ground running.

Has legs and can go really far…

I don’t have the bandwidth

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians

Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes


As mad as a hatter

Like a bat out of hell

As cool as a cucumber

Like trying to nail jelly to the wall

As proud as punch

As smart as a whip

Like herding cats

As clean as a whistle

As easy as ABC

Like a knight in shining armor

And above all, watch out for too many of them

As I mentioned above, with metaphors and similes it’s easy to get too much of a good thing by using too many. Take this short paragraph for example:

They waited outside the door of the meeting room, with bated breath and the nervousness of wild kittens. Even John, normally as strong as an ox and as cool as a cucumber on such occasions, shuffled a short tap dance routine in the corridor. Alyson, who is always the queen of cool, looked at John as if he had just stepped in dog poop. “We’re really have to push the envelope with this presentation, everyone,” she barked loudly, “and as soon as we get in there we’ve got to hit the ground running. We’ve to show them that we think outside the box and deliver their wildest dreams.”

Feeling nauseous yet? Me too. I know I have exaggerated the use of metaphors and similes in that paragraph but even a diluted version – which is something you often see not only in literary novels but also in business storytelling – can make you gag after a while.

Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!





  1. Amazing how easily cliches creep into our writing—and how hard it can be to weed them out!

  2. love this – as it has been a confusion for me…and I have to put my hands up to the jelly on the wall as I seem to love that as much as I love, as useful as a chocolate teapot… LOL

    • There are many, many rude similes I could have quoted here, too, but they’re not for a family audience … LOL! Another (clean) one I like is that something is as hard as herding cats. I have four cats and I’ve found the only way I could herd them into one place is to present them with a plate full of roast chicken….


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