Personification

Personification

Personification is the attribution of a human trait or quality to something non-human (e.g., an animal, an object or a concept).

Easy Examples of Personification

  • The door complained as it opened.
  • The cacti salute you as you drive into the desert.
  • The sun kissed the ocean.
  • Lee could hear the kebab beckoning.

Real-life Examples of Personification

Personification is often achieved by using a verb typically performed by a human.
  • Fame creeps up on you. (Actor Ian Mckellen)
  • Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, temptation avoids you. (Actress Joey Adams)
  • I like writing about the evil lurking in apparently good people. (Author Ethan Canin)
  • Silence speaks so much louder than screaming tantrums. (Singer Taylor Swift)
  • A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. (Preacher Charles Spurgeon)
Personification is also achieved by using an adjective that describes a human condition or emotion.
  • I was born poor and without religion, under a happy sky, feeling harmony, not hostility, in nature. (Philosopher Albert Camus)
  • Love is blind. (Poet Geoffrey Chaucer)
  • The sea was angry that day. (George Costanza from the sitcom Seinfeld)
Personification is also achieved by having something non-human possess something that only a human would.
  • The tree's fingers hadn't got the strength to hold on. (Extract from William Brodrick's The Day of the Lie) (Here, the tree has fingers and insufficient strength to hold on.)
  • Canadians remain in winter's icy grip. (Headline from theweathernetwork.com) (Here, winter has a grip.)
  • Go on. Tell us that our self-indulgent, carbon-heavy, gluttonous and disposable lifestyle is precisely what is churning up the angry response from the skies and seas. (Journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell) (Here, the skies and seas have an angry response.)
Personification is also achieved by using masculine or feminine pronouns. (This is usually to show affection towards a machine. It's especially common with ships.)
  • The great weight of the ship may indeed prevent her from acquiring her greatest velocity; but when she has attained it, she will advance by her own intrinsic motion, without gaining any new degree of velocity, or lessening what she has acquired. (Poet William Falconer)
Of note, personification is often achieved by metaphor (i.e., by asserting a thing is something that it literally is not).

Why Should I Care about Personification?

As well as making your text interesting (by bringing it to life), personification can be an efficient way to describe inanimate things because your readers will find it easy to identify with the human trait and its connotations. By choosing the right human trait, a writer can be descriptive and project their feelings about the object being personified.
  • The ivy hugged theregal oak.
  • (The author admires the oak and thinks the ivy adds to its majesty.)
  • The ivy throttled the regal oak.
  • (Here, ivy undermines the oak's majesty.)
There are three more points about personification worthy-ish of mention.

(Point 1) You can use quotation marks to highlight personification. Don't though.

Quotation marks can be used to show that a word is not being used in its true sense. Therefore, personification can be highlighted with quotation marks.
  • These waves "know" when you're not holding on.
  • (Using quotation marks to show personification is not popular with writers as most feel it reduces the effect.)

(Point 2) You can use a capital letter for a season that is personified. Don't though.

The seasons are normally written using lowercase letters, but there's a quaint ruling out there that states that a season can be given a capital letter if it's personified.
  • It was an effect created by Autumn's golden touch.
  • (Don't expect many of today's grammarians to support you if you opt for a capital letter on a season.)

(Point 3) You can use personify to describe things.

When used in a construction like anger personified, the word personified best translates as in the form of a person.
  • She is beauty personified.
Similarly, the verb to personify can mean to be the human embodiment of.
  • Tony Blair personified the shift away from democracy, towards control by bankers. (Broadcaster Max Keiser)
Not so similarly, the verb to personify can also mean to represent or to typify without any link to a human or a human trait.
  • The Rolls-Royce Phantom personifies everything about luxury motoring.

Key Points

  • If you need an interesting and efficient way to describe something non-human, consider personification's talents. (Your readers will easily identify with a human trait and any connotations it carries.)
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