September 5, 2016


Personification is a frequently employed figure of speech in literature. With this device the human traits are attributed to inanimate objects or abstract ideas. More specifically, personification refers to treating objects and intangible things as persons without giving them human shape.

Let us consider the following instance of personification to understand its structure:

“Love stabbed him in the heart"

In the above sentence the subject "love" is an abstract idea while the verb "stab" is a human-specific attribute. The aforesaid human attribute has been transferred into the subject to realize the personification process. The output is a personified version of "love" along with its still-intact nonhuman form. Herein "love" is conceived as if it were a living person and is capable of stabbing someone's heart. The structure of  personification can be further clarified by the following illustration:

Structure of Personification


Based on the different cases of occurrences, personification could be classified in the following manner:
  1. Non-human entities performing human actions: e.g. "The flowers danced in the gentle breeze"; "The pistol glared at me from its holster".
  2. Non-human entities expressing human emotions: e.g. "The sea was boiling with rage"; "The trees sighed in the wind".
  3. Abstract ideas are given human qualities: e.g. "Hunger sat shivering on the road"; "Misfortune never comes alone".

Determinants of Personification

  • Careful reading of sentences.
  • Identifying words containing nonliving object or idea in the sentences.
  • Identifying description of any lifeless entity treated as living a person.
  • Identification of any implied meaning against any inanimate object or ideas.
  • Analyzing the imagery in the passages thoroughly.
  • Identification of a comparison between an object or idea with human traits.


  • Personification gives life to lifeless entities.
  • Personification generates vivid imagery.
  • Personification helps to emphasize certain point.
  • Personification makes the text more dramatic and complex.
  • Personification increases the reader's interest in the story and helps to retain his attention till the end.
  • Personification incorporates deeper meanings to ordinary objects.
  • Personification inspires the audience to see things from different angles.
  •  Personification helps to express human thoughts and motivations in a creative way.
  • Personification makes an abstraction clearer and more real to the reader by defining or explaining the concept in terms of everyday human action.

Related Forms

Anthropomorphism is an extended form of personification in which human shape, traits, and actions or abilities are attributed to nonhuman things and beings like animals, deities, and lifeless objects. To be specific, anthropomorphism is the treating of animals and objects as if they were human in appearance, character, or behaviour.

Structure of Anthropomorphism

The word anthropomorphism derives from the Greek words ánthrōpos, meaning "human" and morphē, meaning "shape" or "form". The term originally used to give human qualities to a deity. The Greeks and Romans used the idea in stories about their gods to bestow them human traits. Anthropomorphism is a recurring personification device in Aesop's Fables by the ancient Greek fabulist Aesop.  In English literature this device has been employed in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865), Anna Sewell's Black Beauty (1877), Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894), George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945), etc. Anthropomorphism has always been a favorite device for cartoonists. Some notable classic anthropomorphic cartoon characters include Mickey Mouse (1928), Goofy (1932), Daffy Duck (1937), Bugs Bunny (1938), Garfield (1978), etc. A more contemporary example includes SpongeBob, the title character in SpongeBob SquarePants (1999).
Personification Vs Anthropomorphism
In majority of mainstream definitions the terms are used interchangeably and the result is an overlap of functions from the both ends.  Even most teachers as well as students are unfamiliar with the term anthropomorphism. What teachers label as personification in class rooms is actually a hybrid of personification and anthropomorphism. Again, the majority of textbooks also present a mixed-up definition.

Although their functions appear to be analogous from general point of view, in essence they exhibit slight differences:

Sl. # Personification Anthropomorphism
1. Personification is the attribution of human characteristics such as, emotions, sensations, etc. to abstract ideas like love, hate, anger, death, peace, etc. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to animals, deities and objects.
2. Personification occurs when human characteristics are ascribed to non-human entities without altering their non-human form. Anthropomorphism, occurs when a non-human entity fully and clearly embodies human traits, emotions and personalities, including a human form. That means anthropomorphized subjects look like human and they can walk, talk and act like humans.
3. Personification is a narrower term since its coverage of association of human traits is limited to object and abstract ideas only. Anthropomorphism is a much broader term since it can associate human traits to a wide variety of subjects, including animals, deities, natural and supernatural phenomena, and objects.
4. The imagery drawn by personification presents a connotative or figurative meaning. The imagery drawn by anthropomorphism presents a literal meaning.
5. Personification is gender-neutral since we can describe an object without naming it or specifying its gender. Anthropomorphism is gender-specific since we use name and ascribe gender-specific human shape to describe animals, objects, etc.
Pathetic Fallacy
The term pathetic fallacy was coined by John Ruskin in 1856. It is the technique for ascribing the mood and temperament of one or more characters in relation to a natural phenomenon. For example,

 “The sky darkened as the young damsel wailed for her deceased lover.”

In the above instance, the human emotion “wailing” has been attributed to a natural phenomenon i.e., the “sky” in order to reflect the character’s state of mind.

Structure of Pathetic Fallacy
Pathetic Fallacy Vs Personification
Personification is often confused with pathetic fallacy, which is illogical since it is distinct and different form personification in terms of function:

Sl. # Pathetic Fallacy Personification
1. Pathetic fallacy describes a temperament of the human mind referring to nature. Personification is used to convey a human emotion or quality directly attributing it to an object or abstract idea.
2. Pathetic fallacy often occurs by accident. Personification occurs on purpose.
3. Pathetic fallacy is a narrower term since it ascribes human quality only to natural phenomena like weather. Personification is a broader term since its attribution of human ideas is not only restricted to objects but also to abstract ideas.
Apostrophe refers to a direct address to an absent person (either dead or alive), inanimate or abstract entity as if the addressee is capable of understanding the addresser's feelings. The word "O" is often used to indicate such an invocation.

A classic example of apostrophe includes John Donne’s Death, be not proud (1609), where the speaker talks to death throughout the poem as if it were a person capable of comprehending his feelings:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”

In his 1807 poem London, 1802  the English poet William Wordsworth apostrophizes the dead poet John Milton:
“Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;”

Shelley employs apostrophe in his celebrated poem Ode to the West Wind (1820):

“O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,”

The following illustration demonstrates how an absent addressee is being apostrophized by the addressee:

Structure of Apostrophe
Apostrophe Vs Personification
Apostrophe is different from personification to the following extent:

Sl. # Apostrophe Personification
1. An apostrophe makes reference to something or somebody who is absent in the scene. In personification the object under reference does not necessarily need to be absent from the scene.
2. Persons, objects, and abstractions are directly addressed as if they can understand human emotion. Objects and ideas are attributed human qualities.
Metaphor Vs Personification
Although both metaphor and personification is a type of comparison, yet they apply different techniques. In metaphor a comparison is made between two different objects with an implication that they are similar on single or some common characteristics. On the other hand, in personification human characteristics are attributed to an object or idea to describe it as human with an implication that they are literally the same thing.


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" Anthropomorphism”. Shmoop. 2016. Shmoop University. 2 August 2016

“Anthropomorphism.” Microsoft Encarta. DVD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft, 2005.

“Apostrophe (figure of speech)”. Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 August 2016

" Characterization”. Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 August 2016

Griffith, Benjamin W. A Pocket Guide to Literature and Language Terms. New York: Barron's, 1976

" Personification”. Literary Devices. 2016. Literary Devices. 2 August 2016

" Personification”. Literary Devices. 2016. Literary Devices. 2 August 2016

" Personification”. Simple English Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 August 2016

“Pathetic Fallacy”. Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 August 2016

“Metaphor”. Tanvir’s Blog. 2016. Tanvir Shameem. 2 August 2016

Tanvir Shameem Tanvir Shameem is not the biggest fan of teaching, but he is doing his best to write on various topics of language and literature just to guide thousands of students and researchers across the globe. You can always find him experimenting with presentation, style and diction. He will contribute as long as time permits. You can find him on:


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