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Understanding Personification (Definition + Examples)

What is personification? A personification occurs when a the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman. It sounds science fiction. Personification is a wonderful and beautiful part of the English language.

What is personification?

Personification is a figure of speech which employs human attributes to non-living things. It involves the usage of verbs that are commonly used to describe human behavior or actions, to abstract things or inanimate objects.

This is done to embellish statements or even to add more emphasis and amplify the intended effect on the reader. In some cases, personification is used to add a poetic effect to sentences. 

Example: The sun kissed the itinerant pilgrims en route to Jerusalem.

The verb ‘kissed’ is applicable only to living beings and especially humans. But in the above example, it is used with an inanimate sun.

Even though this is literally not true or possible, it is used as a figure of speech, which is a literary device, for beautification.  

Question or NoteWhat to know
Passing of lifeThe Grim Reaper is personification.
Characteristics of personificationGiving human qualities, feelings, action, or characteristics to (non-living) objects.
Why personification existsTo coney abstract ideas in a relatable way.
Pronunciation[PUH] + [SON] + [UH] + [FI] + [KAY] + [SHUHN] 
For sleepIn Greek mythology, Hypnos (/ˈhɪpnɒs/; Ancient Greek: Ὕπνος means ‘sleep’) is the personification of sleep; the Roman equivalent is known as Somnus.
ImageryPersonification is another tool used for imagery.

Difference between personification and anthropomorphism

Both personification and anthropomorphism refer to literary devices that employ human behavior or attributes to non-human entities. But the difference lies in that personification applies to the description of an abstract feature or entity with human attributes or behavior.

Anthropomorphism on the other hand is the application of human behavioral traits to an animal, a god, or an object.

The main objective behind the use of personification is to create a rich portrayal with a poetic sense or added emphasis. It is more like a metaphor and denotes figurative speech.

  • Example 1: The howling storm created an eerie atmosphere.    
  • Example 2: Love is blind


While personification is figurative, anthropomorphism is more like in the literal sense. Here, angels, demons, animals, and deities behave like actual human beings.

They can talk, sing, or even dance. Anthropomorphism is abundantly found in children’s stories and comics.

Some popular examples include Mickey Mouse, Thomas the Tank Engine, Donald Duck, Goofy the dog, etc. Popular literary works that are full of anthropomorphic manifestations are ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, the ancient Indian fables collection ‘Panchatantra’ etc.

Hollywood is another arena where plenty of anthropomorphic examples can be found, both in book adaptations and otherwise. Some of them are Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Kung fu Panda, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Wizard of Oz, etc.

Of an ideaEveryone is talking about the new class pet. News travels fast.
Of an ojectThe rain stopped, and the sun began to peak from behind the clouds.
Of an animalThe first little pig built his house out of straw.

Definition of personification

As mentioned earlier, personification is a literary device also known as a figure of speech. It uses human attributes or emotions, mainly through verbs, to inanimate objects for the purpose of beautification or adding more emphasis.

One can frequently find the use of personification too in children’s books and novels. This is because the use of imaginative expressions can make the work more appealing to kids. It can also play a positive role in stirring the imaginative minds of the kids.

Though contrary to common logic that inanimate objects cannot express feelings or behave like human beings, it only makes the expression more interesting.

Thus, personification is more figurative than literal and is used for embellishment or emphasis. Personification is not just about using human attributes to inanimate objects. The attributes of inanimate objects and animals can also be used, although these are rare when compared to the use of human attributes.

  • The benign smile immediately melted off his face.
  • The current issue of the fashion magazine flew off the shelves immediately after distribution.
  • Personifications can also be found in idioms.
  • Mumbai is a city that never sleeps.
  • Actions speak louder than words.  


  • My school notebook screamed for attention.
  • All the furniture inside the old mansion reeked of neglect.

Understanding personification in figurative language

Figurative language is an expression that denotes the usage of words not in a literal sense, but more in a poetic, artistic, or humorous way. In other words, it is the exact opposite of literal language that is commonly found in legal documents and academic papers. Literal language can be monotonous and lackluster.

Thus, figurative speech can be put to use in order to make literary works and fiction novels much more engaging and engrossing. In figurative speech, comparison, juxtaposition, and exaggeration can be freely used in an imaginative manner to add more spark and spice to the words.

Another popular and more useful application of figurative speech is the exposition of complex theories or ideas. Take for instance the Schrodinger’s cat. It is a thought experiment that is used to demonstrate paradoxes in the field of quantum mechanics.

With the skillful use of figurative speech, this complex experiment has been made much easier for people with a non-scientific background to understand.

There are five commonly used varieties of figure speech used in the English language. They are Simile, Metaphor, Personification, Hyperbole, and Allusion.

Personification, as discussed earlier, is a form of figurative speech where human attributes and behavioral traits are applied to inanimate objects and phenomena.

It requires an imaginative mind and is hence found widely in children’s books, Poetry, and fiction.  


  • Opportunity only knocks at the daring and adventurous.
  • The early morning sun greeted us with warmth and comfort.
  • The recalcitrant full moon was playing hide and seek with the clouds.

Understanding metaphor, simile, personification, and hyperbole

As we saw earlier, metaphor, simile, personification, and hyperbole are all types of figurative language. We shall take a detailed look at each of them.


A metaphor is a figure of speech that states that a person or object is something else that it is not in actuality.

By this statement, a comparison between the two is implied to suggest a symbolic relation rather than a literal meaning. In simpler terms, a person or thing is stated to be something which cannot be true in the literal sense. The term metaphor originates from the Greek word metapherein which translates into transfer.

Metaphors are a bit tricky in that they sound like actual statements. The implied comparison can only be understood if the reader is aware of the true meanings of the compared objects and the impossibility of them being the same or similar.

Example: Marie is a fox.

Here the statement cannot make any literal sense as Marie is a person and cannot be a fox in reality. But the statement appears to be assertive and the comparison aspect is only hidden. The implied meaning is that Marie has the cunning and deceitfulness that a fox has.

Metaphors are widely used for a number of reasons. They can be highly imaginative and can spruce up your writing. They also make your writing appear more confident, elegant, and fluid.

Hence, they can be an effective tool in the hands of creative writers and can bring more color and vivacity to their writings. 

Metaphors are also used to explain difficult concepts in a simpler way. Thus they tend to be more memorable for readers than mere bland statements.

Examples of metaphor

  • The world is but a stage.
  • Jennifer was the shining star of the show.
  • She desperately needs to jumpstart her career.
  • They say that the face is a veritable mirror of the soul.
  • David gave him an icy stare.
  • With piercing eyes, she stared at me.


A simile is also a figure of speech that compares two very different objects for providing a symbolic meaning.

But similes are not the same as metaphors because the comparison being done is explicit with a simile.

It is made explicit by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’, and they are not assertive statements like metaphors.

Hence similes are easier to identify than metaphors which are trickier to spot. The word simile is derived from the Latin word similis which means similar.

Similes are used to make comparisons between two or more nouns. The keyword ‘as’ or ‘like’ is used to compare an object or person with the well-known quality of another popular object or phenomenon. Thus it can be used as a direct comparison between similar as well as dissimilar things.

Another useful feature of simile is that it helps the reader visualize or create a mental picture of the concept that is being explained. With the aid of the object of comparison being used, the reader can vividly picturize the scenario in his mind which in turn helps him understand better and quicker.

Examples of simile

  • Life is like a box of chocolates. (From the movie Forrest Gump)
  • She is as tall as a giraffe.
  • Radha is as sweet as sugar.
  • Eric became as busy as a bee during his preparations for the final examinations.
  • Jamie dealt with the situation as cool as a cucumber.
  • In the fast enveloping darkness, we became as blind as a bat in that wilderness.
  • Anita’s mind is as sharp as a razor.
  • Jennifer sings like a cuckoo.
  • After returning home from that tiring journey, I slept like a log.
  • Since he chatters like a monkey, most of his classmates avoid the company of Chris.
  • Kristina became as proud as a peacock during her college years.
  • The new android smartphone was as light as a feather.

Examples of personification

  • The cold winds howled throughout the night.
  • The merciless sun roasted us with its heat rays.
  • The huge avalanche devoured the entire vegetation in that area.
  • All the media cameras seem to love the superstar’s face.
  • The old wooden stairs groaned complainingly as we climbed through it.
  • A lengthy column of birch trees welcomed us as we drove in to the village.
  • The ATM died on me halfway through the transaction.
  • The dense night stars winked on us mischievously.
  • She sleepily reached out her hand to silence the yelling alarm clock.
  • Panic gripped the residents when news of the pandemic spread.


A hyperbole is a type of figurative speech that employs extravagant and exaggerated statements to lay added emphasis on a point. It is also used to evoke a marked emotional response from the reader.

Hyperboles are typically used to add a humorous effect to a speech or writing, and they should never be taken literally.

Our everyday lives are filled with hyperboles, especially among the more witty and humorous. The exaggeration is effectively used to convey the emotional effect or depth on the part of the speaker.

Take for instance the sentence: “I haven’t seen her for eons”.

The exaggerative ‘eons’ is used to emphasize the length of time that the speaker has felt about the other person’s absence.

Hyperboles are also extensively used in creative writing for their amusement quotient.     

Examples of hyperbole

  • The Smiths have amassed tons of wealth.
  • She appeared so hungry that she could eat a horse.
  • Mr Gerard is older than the hills.
  • She would die of embarrassment if she had to wear this outfit.
  • I will walk to the ends of the Earth to be with you!
  • I had stocked enough food to feed an army.
  • The remote outpost is as dry as a desert.
  • Haven’t I told you a million times to not leave the door unlocked?

How to write personification

If you want to describe a particular scenario, first identify the emotional impact that you want to create in the readers. Then infuse the description of that scenario with apt words of human attributes that would best evoke that emotional response.

Consider the following example.

If you want to describe a violent storm from the viewpoint of a frightened child, then you have to apply human-like attributes while describing that storm.

This attribution can bring out the intended emotional effect on the readers to help them understand what the child felt like.

Thus you should write as follows: Emily trembled with fear as the storm raged outside incessantly and heavy rain pummeled the rooftop.


To be able to effectively use personification as a literary device, a high level of creativity is needed on the writer’s part to equate a human attribute to an inanimate object or phenomenon.

The relation between the object and the attribute should be readily understood by the reader in order to have the intended effect.

Otherwise, the whole exercise would become fruitless.

Example: The car engine coughed up black smoke through the exhaust pipe when I turned the ignition key.

Poetic skill

With enough deftness and poetic skill, personification can be efficiently employed by writers in creating vibrant and memorable images in the minds of readers. A popular example of the skillful use of personification can be found in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’.

In this poem, Poe has brilliantly enabled the raven to utter the word ‘nevermore’ as if to answer questions posed by the narrator. Poe personified the raven with this human-like attribute to make it more poetic and communicative. 


Personification can also be used as a powerful device in infusing humor into your writing. The degree of humor is determined by the contrast or incongruity between the inanimate object and the attributed trait. The contrast can even be stretched to the point of absurdity to make the comparison funnier.


Personification can encourage the imaginative spirits of readers by making them imagine pets and inanimate objects as having distinct personalities and attributes of their own. This can be compared to a child talking to her Barbie doll and pet owners emoting with their pets or even having imaginative conversations with them.

Examples of personification in literature

Great literary masters have deftly employed personifications in their masterpieces that have enthralled readers for many generations.

Among them is William Shakespeare who with his poetic brilliance and imaginative exuberance has elevated his works to a higher level.

In his classic work ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare exclaims “The grey-ey’d morn smiles on the frowning night…” In this passage, he compares the unfolding love of Romeo and Juliet with the process of dawning.

The English poet John Keats has also used personifications extensively in his literary works.

In his famous love sonnet, he exclaims “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”. Here, he expresses his desire to be as steadfast as a star. A classic example of a literary master using the personification of a star to express a human quality.

Personification chart
Personification chart


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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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