In writing field, personification means the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality or idea in human form.<1> It's an ontological metaphor in which a thing or abstraction is represented as a person.

It also can be regarded as a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities. <2> John Ruskin even termed sentimentalized, exaggerated personification the "pathetic fallacy." This rhetorical device is widely used by many poets, essayists and novelists.

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For example, William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist, used personification in Romeo and Juliet in the lines "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/ Who is already sick and pale with grief...". William Blake, who is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age, wrote, “O Rose, thou art sick!” in The Sick Rose. What's more, Characters in allegorical morality plays were named Good Deeds, Beauty, and Death.

Here are more examples.

(1) The wind whispered many truths to me.

(2) The brook is babbling.

(3) Nature is weeping.

154641I01-0.jpg (4) The alarm clock tells me it's four o'clock.

1J632H95-0.jpg(5) The candle feels helpless.

155IW225-0.jpg (6) The empty water dispenser is thirsty. 


There are two categories of personification in my view.

Firstly, a figure intended to represent an abstract quality. It's showed in the following sentence. "Marianne is the personification of the French Republic".

Secondly, a person, animal, or object regarded as representing or embodying a quality, concept, or thing. Here is an example sentence. "He was the very personification of British pluck and diplomacy."


Personification is usually employed to add vividness to expressions.Because people have a tendency to look at the world in human terms, it's not surprising that we often rely on personification (sometimes also known as prosopopoeia) to bring inanimate things to life.

Like other figures of speech, personification is much more than an ornamental device added to an essay or a story to keep readers amused. Used effectively, personification encourages us to view our surroundings from a new, and sometimes even creative perspective. As Zolta Kovecses mentioned in Metaphor: A Practical Introduction (2002), "personification permits us to use knowledge about ourselves to comprend other aspects of the world, such as natural forces, in animated objects, death, time, etc." <3>

In my opinion, personification can also function as a type of simile or metaphor.

Because poets or novelists sometimes make comparisions through personification, it can be viewed a special kind of simile ( an explicit or direct comparison ) or metaphor ( an implicit or indirect comparison ). Here is an example. In Robert Frost's poem "Birches", the personification of the trees as the girls is a kind of simile.

  • You may see their trunks arching in the woods

  • Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground

  • Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair

  • Before them over their heads to dry in the sun

In the following two lines of this poem, Robert Frost used a metaphor comparing "truth" to a plain-telling woman. He put personification into practice again.

  • But I was going to say when Truth broke in

  • With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm

For more information about "Birches", you can click the sixth external link.)

So personification can also serve as a simile or metaphor.


There are five forms of personification.

(1) personification by means of verbs.

eg: Her eyes danced with great vivacity.

(2) personification by means of nouns.

eg: Time is the best physician.

(3) personification by means of adjectives.

eg: Love is blind.

(4) personification by means of adverbs.

eg: His words were bitingly sarcastic.

(5) personification by means of pronouns.

eg: China will always do what she has promised to do.


<1> The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English | 2009 |

<2> The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008 |

<3> A Practical Introduction, Zolta Kovecses, 2002










[Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (1593) was an important source-book for personification.]