Skilled writers know how to make their writing come alive using literary devices and figures of speech.
Instead of just telling your reader what’s happening, you can help them to imagine it themselves by using a variety of methods, including similes, metaphors, and personification.
What Is Personification?
Personification is a literary device that gives human attributes to a non-human object. This may apply to animals, inanimate objects, or even intangible ideas.
The writer portrays these non-human objects in a way that makes them seem to act like humans.
Personifying Inanimate Objects
When personifying an inanimate object, writers use verbs to signify actions that only human beings do, or adjectives that are normally reserved for humans.
They might also attribute characteristics such as feelings, emotions, or motives to objects that are not capable of thoughts or feelings.
For example, if we say “the wind moans,” we are not only describing the sound of the wind, but we are giving it the human ability of bemoaning something.
When you personify animals, you may give them human attributes, such as certain feelings or actions. Often, the personification may cross over to another literary device known as anthropomorphism.
The main difference is that personification projects traits onto animals in a way that creates imagery. The animals are not acting in an actual human way, but the writer uses personification to make a description come alive.
Saying that a deer “walked” or “leapt” through the fields is not an example of personification, because a deer can actually do those things.
However, if we say that the deer “waltzed” through the fields, then we’ve given it a human quality, since a deer is not capable of performing an actual waltz. Rather, this phrase is used to create imagery and convey the manner in which the deer seemed to be traveling.
In contrast, anthropomorphism portrays animals actually showing human qualities in a literal way, such as wearing clothing or speaking words. Anthropomorphism is very commonly used in fables, fairy tales, and children’s stories.
For example, saying “The dog curled up next to me and shared my grief” is personification, whereas having the dog actually say, “Everything will be all right,” is anthropomorphism.
Personifying an Abstract Quality or Idea
Personification may also be used for an abstract quality or idea. For example, the idea of hope might be described as, “What she said filled me with hope that sang and danced inside my heart.”
An alternative definition of personification is when a person embodies an abstract quality. An example would be, “She is the absolute personification of creativity and innovation.”
What Is the Use of Personification?
The best fiction writers know how to wield this powerful tool, making their work come alive in our imaginations more than a literal description ever can.
Personification makes written descriptions vivid and more unique, helping readers to better relate to your writing.
Both personification and anthropomorphism have played a huge role in storytelling across the centuries: Aesop’s fables, fairy tales, and mythology are full of examples of non-human objects showing human qualities.
Also, using personification in describing inanimate objects gives more weight to them, as in the case of describing forces of nature. Compare the following two sentences:
“The storm continued unabated across the city, destroying everything.”
“The storm raged across the city, crushing everything in its path.”
What Are Examples of Personification?
Here are some examples of personification, set in bold.
- Coming home from the city, the mountains beckoned me near, like a long-lost friend.
- The waves laughed as they splashed over the little boy.
- Fear held everyone in its vise-like grip during the global pandemic.
- The goats skipped merrily down the hills.
- The floodwaters swallowed up the entire city.
- As we ran through the thicket, the trees reached out their gnarled fingers to block our path.
Examples of Personification in Common Idioms
Everyday speech contains many idioms or expressions that use personification. Some examples are:
- Love is blind.
- The city that never sleeps
- The waves lashed out in anger.
- Sun-kissed skin
- Opportunity knocks
- The sun hid behind the clouds.
Examples of Personification in Literature
Below are 5 examples of personification from famous works of literature:
Example #1: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
“Diana and I were only over in the Haunted Wood. It’s lovely in the woods now. All the little wood things—the ferns and the satin leaves and the crackerberries—have gone to sleep, just as if somebody had tucked them away until spring under a blanket of leaves.”
Example #2: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“How funny!” said Mary. “That’s really just what it feels like. And if all the flowers and leaves and green things and birds and wild creatures danced past at once, what a crowd it would be! I’m sure they’d dance and sing and flute and that would be the wafts of music.”
Example #3: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
If he was right, here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond—bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose on us by the vengeance of a dead man. There was our situation as revealed to me in Mr. Franklin’s last words! Who ever heard the like of it—in the nineteenth century, mind; in an age of progress, and in a country which rejoices in the blessings of the British constitution?
Example #4: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
I stood still a few moments to recover breath, and till the waters went from me, and then took to my heels and ran with what strength I had further towards the shore. But neither would this deliver me from the fury of the sea, which came pouring in after me again; and twice more I was lifted up by the waves and carried forward as before, the shore being very flat.
Example #5: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse. How thorough she was at bath-time, and up at any moment of the night if one of her charges made the slightest cry. Of course her kennel was in the nursery. She had a genius for knowing when a cough is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs stocking around your throat. She believed to her last day in old-fashioned remedies like rhubarb leaf, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk about germs, and so on.
Test Yourself on Identifying Personification
Now that you have seen several examples of personification, why don’t you try your hand at finding the personifying verb or adjective below?
- Her heart was divided between needing to stay home and wanting to go see her sister right away.
- The shiny ball jumped merrily along until it came to a stop right in front of Manuel’s sneakers.
- When the sparrow saw me peering into her nest, she jumped out and scolded me from the nearest branch.
- The car sputtered and gasped for a last breath before it finally came to an untimely stop.
- Five enormous dogs marched into the barn and glared at the farmer.
- heart needed to stay home/wanted to go see
- ball jumped merrily
- sparrow scolded
- car sputtered and gasped for a last breath
- dogs marched and glared
Significance of Personification
Now that you have seen how personification can take your descriptions to the next level, you can practice using it in your writing.
You can also study up on the most common figures of speech to bring your words to life and inspire your readers’ imaginations.
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