So what’s personification? Personification is a figurative device in which human attributes or feelings are given to an inanimate object or thing as if it were human. It’s a technique used a lot in speech and writing. An example would be ‘the snowflakes danced in the cold winter breeze.
What’s Personification in English? A simple definition
So, what’s personification all about? Personification is a figurative language where human characteristics, such as thoughts, feelings, or actions, are given to something non-human. The ‘non-human’ in this case encompasses everything from inanimate objects to plants and animals.
Personification is similar to another form of figurative language, metaphors. However, the difference is that metaphors can compare one thing to another. In contrast, personification is more to do with reaching the way an item or object behaves with our human behaviors.
Why do we use Personification?
Now that we know the answer to ‘what’s personification in English?’, we can explore why it’s important and why writers and poets use it.
Giving human characteristics to non-human objects or creatures brings those non-human things to life, especially if they’re normally inanimate in real life. It relies on the reader’s imagination to imagine the personification, as it’s typically something you wouldn’t see in the real world.
Personification is usually used for a specific purpose within texts. For example, the writer might use personification to inspire empathy in the reader.
If we describe a teddy bear as ‘mistreated’ by its owner, we can’t help but feel sorry for it, even though it’s an inanimate object.
Personification can also create strong visual images in the reader’s mind. For example, when we describe flowers as ‘swaying’ or trees as ‘waving,’ it gives the impression that they’re moving of their own accord when it’s the wind driving them. However, the image it evokes is familiar, beautiful, and meaningful to the reader.
How do you identify personification?
Although we’ve answered the question of ‘what’s personification?’, how do you spot it in a piece of text?
Unlike similes, which you can easily spot by looking for words like ‘like’ or ‘as,’ personification doesn’t use recurring words. However, it’s easy to spot when you remember that it compares a non-human thing to human emotions. So look for examples of something that’s not a person is given human emotions, such as ‘the wind roared’ or ‘the sun beamed down.’
What’s a personification example?
It’s easier to answer the question of ‘what’s personification?’ with the help of a few examples. The most common examples of this literary device are nursery rhymes and poetry. Explore these personification examples to see how well you and your learners understand the concept of personification.
The stars danced in the sky.
In this example, the stars are the subject of the sentence and are an object. Dancing, however, is a verb generally associated with people and gives an image of the movement of the stars.
In the jungle, the lion sings tonight.
Again, lions can’t sing. The lion is roaring, but the use of the verb sing adds an element of emotion and description to the action.
Those flowers are begging for water in this hot weather.
In this example, the flowers need water, but the dramatic verb ‘beg’ gives them a much more human character and creates an emotional response from the reader.
There’s also plenty of personification in English that we use daily, perhaps without realizing it.
- My hair stood on end.
- The sun-kissed my cheeks.
- My heart danced.
- The wind howled.
- The last piece of cake called my name.
- The door protested as it was opened.
- The sun is playing hide-and-seek today.
- The camera loves her.
- Thunder roared in the distance.
- Time flies when you’re having fun.
- The lights winked.
What’s Personification in Poems?
Personification is commonly used in poetry to create vivid images. Here are a few examples of personification from classic poems.
The Lady of Shalott By Lord Alfred Tennyson
In this poem, aspects of nature are given human qualities. It brings the natural world to life.
Here, the ‘fields of barley and rye’ are said to ‘clothe’ and ‘meet.’ In the real world, of course, fields of barley and rye wouldn’t be able to do either of these things. However, the poem creates an image in the reader’s mind – the fields cover the landscape from land to sky.
In the next stanza of the poem, there’s even more personification! Willows ‘whiten’, aspens ‘shiver,’ and sunbeams ‘break’ and ‘quiver.’ Again, these are human actions given to inanimate parts of nature. It creates the idea that spirit is alive all around us.
Windy Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson
Personification is also used in the poem ‘Windy Nights.’
Here, the trees are ‘crying aloud.’ Trees don’t normally make noise – this human attribute has been assigned through personification. It gives the trees not only a human action but emotion too. They appear to be crying out in pain.
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
This poem is all about personification. Shelley uses the technique to bring the statue, the main subject of the poem, to life.
Here, the speaker describes the statue lying in the desert. Though inanimate, it has a ‘sneer of cold command,’ as if there’s a life hidden within the stone. The personification gives king Ozymandias a presence throughout the poem.