Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Volume.7 Number.2 June, 2016                                             Pp. 49-60


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A Corpus-based Study of Similes in British and American English

Riyad F Hussein
Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Foreign Languages
The University of Jordan
Amman, Jordan

Majdi Sawalha
Computer Information Systems Department
King Abdullah II School for Information Technology
The University of Jordan
Amman, Jordan


This study aimed to investigate the forms of similes and the types of nouns following them and their frequency in different simile constructions. It also unveils the implications that can be drawn from the findings for English as Foreign Language (EFL) learning contexts. More specifically, this study attempts to find out the most frequent nouns following similes in different constructions in two generalized corpora, namely the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).  These similes were identified, retrieved and ranked in a descending order according to their frequencies per one million words. Results indicate that similes, unlike other multi-word units are changeable as different nouns with varying frequencies ranging from one to fifty three were shown to follow each of the similes under investigation. For instance, frequencies of nouns following the simile as good as were as follows: gold (53), (the) people (30), men (14), money (9), and cash (8). These results stood in contrast  to the beliefs and opinions of some native speakers of English who view similes as fixed forms, very much like formulaic expressions and thus associated exclusively with certain nouns. The study calls on teachers and instructors to take these findings into account when teaching similes in the EFL context. Additional research is recommended on other similes such as, as sweet as sugar and as cold asice, for instance in BNC and COCA to confirm or invalidate the findings reported in this research.
Keywords: BNC, COCA, corpora, corpus linguistics, EFL,  similes

Cite as: Hussein, F. R., & Sawalha. M . (2016). A Corpus-based Study of Similes in British and American English. Arab World English Journal, 7(2).


Riyad F Hussein is a Professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Jordan,
Amman, Jordan. He obtained his Ph.D in linguistics from the State University of New York
(SUNY) at Buffalo. He has published extensively in international journals such as Language
Problems and Language Planning, English for Special Purposes, Language Sciences, World
Englishes, Babel and META. His research interests include bilingualism, code-switching, second
language acquisition, translation and interpreting