Personification in Writing (Definition, Purpose, How To Write + Examples)

Personification is a literary device that gives human attributes to non-human things.

In simplest terms, personification is attributing human qualities to non human things.

A detailed and dictionary definition of personification would be "representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form," according to Merriam-Webster.

Personification is a literary device, a kind of metaphor, where a non human entity is represented with human characteristics.

Some common examples of personification that we use in daily life include:

  • the roaring waves of the sea;
  • the thunder grumbled hard;
  • the sky wept;
  • the grasses danced;
  • the angry alarm clock;
  • words come to life;

What is the Purpose of Using Personification?

  • The basic purpose of personification in writing is to make inanimate objects relatable to the (human) reader. Personification also adds a deeper meaning to things that do not possess complex human attributes.
  • Personification helps concretize abstract ideas like thoughts, human emotions, memories, or belongings. Any human characteristic, be that emotion or action, holds power to humanize the object of personification, making it easier for us to relate, easily understand, and illustrate it in our minds.
  • Personification in writing also helps create vivid imagery in the minds of the readers. For example, poetry goes like this: "The cloud-filled sky mourned as the white roses covered the ground..." readers paint their imagination with a grey sky that is about to break in rain. The sky does not understand the human behavior of mourning; the writer uses personification to craft the perfect picture they want to showcase.
  • Personification in literature help set moods, settings and gives many aspects of a fictional story a kind of profoundness, a sense of familiarity, and easier to follow.
  • Through time, writers and directors have used personification in their works to create inanimate characters, animated settings, and suspense. When a haunted house gets a memory ad consciousness like that of a human being, it is not very comforting, and this effect is created by means of personification.

Anthropomorphism vs. Personification

Anthropomorphism gives entities (or ideas) such as animals, gods, or objects specific human characteristics.

You are probably thinking how this sounds exactly like the definition of personification. Here is the catch.

Personification is a figurative language, while anthropomorphism is literal.

Personification is a literary technique used for expressing abstract ideas, moods, and feelings in a comprehensible way. Anthropomorphism is attributing human traits to non human things in an explicit way.

Anthropomorphism is a part of personification.

Examples of Personification vs. Anthropomorphism

Personification: "The train is taking a stroll in the garden." Here the train is personified, like a person taking a leisurely walk in their garden in the context that it moves very slowly.

Anthropomorphism: Thomas from Thomas and Friends. The tank engine has specific human qualities like being able to talk and think, and Thomas is a living entity in the show, not a literary device.

Personification Examples in Literature

Death, be not proud by John Donne

In this sonnet, death is personified throughout.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

The poet asks death not to be haughty just because people are fearful of death.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree is a controversial picture book that uses the personification of a tree to explain the abundance of Mother Nature and human beings' relationship to her.

Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Paul Revere's Ride honors American patriot Sir Paul Revere.

the watchful night-wind, as it went / Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, 'All is well!'

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by William Wordsworth

In this famous poem, Wordsworth personifies daffodils and other aspects of nature as a way of using figurative language.

When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Here the beauty of daffodils swaying in the wind is expressed by the poem using the literary device of personification.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

The waves are also personified as dancing like the daffodils.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Day the Crayons Quit is a children's book published in 2013. It personifies crayons, giving them human qualities of emotions and how the protagonist, Duncan, deals with them.

Personification Examples in Other Media

Thriller by Michael Jackson (Song)

You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes

In these lines, Michael Jackson personifies horror, like some bizarre event about to happen, in front of you.

Inside Out by Pete Docter

Young Riley's emotions are personified in this animated film, about how emotions like joy, sadness, anger deal with each other in new surroundings.

Emotions are given feelings, arcs, actions of their own as characters get in films and shows.

A very old example of this kind can be found in the play Everyman, a morality play of the early 16th century.

New York, New York by Frank Sinatra

These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

Frank Sinatra personifies his old country shoes. What he is trying to describe is that he is tired of living in the country and wants to explore the glamorous city of New York.

Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun,
and I say, It's all right

The sun is the subject of personification here, and it expresses the arrival of the day, as well as good times.

How to Use Personification in Your Own Writing?

Writing personification is quite simple. You can use personification as a figurative language for the purpose of describing things better, for making it reader-friendly, and really connecting through your writing.

One example of personification on how it instantly connects readers to your writing is, "We all hate the scolding from our alarm clock every morning." This sentence will be relatable and engage your readers better than saying, "We all hate the sound of the alarm clock."

Writing personification is just giving a human phenomenon to nonhuman things with the intention of expressing better. It is as simple as that: choose nonhuman things and give them human characteristics.

  • Replace "loud alarm clock" with "angry alarm clock."
  • Replace "swaying flowers" with "dancing flowers."
  • Replace "rainy sky" with "sky full of tears."

It's better to avoid personification or any figurative language in technical writing or scientific journals, as these texts are expected to present only facts without any form of personal expression.

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