Personification: A Special Type of Metaphor

girl personification cartoon

Famine stalked the city, mock­ing the fes­toons of bright lights in the win­dows of new­ly opened con­fec­tionery shops” Suzanne Rosen­berg, A Sovi­et Odyssey.

Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion is a great tac­tic, which can be engaged by the writer, bring­ing to life a con­cept or an inan­i­mate object. The writer uses the con­cept as if the sub­ject were human, in a way that dra­mat­i­cal­ly express­es the intend­ed point. In Rosenberg’s case to high­light great pover­ty in the midst of wealth, to show famine as a clear ene­my, to per­son­alise the con­cept and demon­strate the great dif­fer­ences she had wit­nessed. It per­son­alis­es the men­ace of famine.


Concepts or Inanimate Objects

Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion is defined as “the attri­bu­tion of human nature or char­ac­ter to ani­mals, inan­i­mate objects, or abstract notions, espe­cial­ly as a rhetor­i­cal fig­ure.” There are plen­ty of TV pro­grammes that per­son­i­fy ani­mals, so this ele­ment need not be dis­cussed fur­ther, yet per­son­i­fi­ca­tion is not well under­stood in respect of gen­er­al non-fic­tion writing.

One of the chal­lenges of writ­ing about either inan­i­mate objects or con­cepts is that they can be seen as irrel­e­vant or per­haps too remote from the reader’s life. The writer has to adopt dif­fer­ent tech­niques to stress the impor­tance of the sub­ject under dis­cus­sion. Here are a few examples:

  • Stars dance play­ful­ly in the moon­lit sky.
  • The run down house appeared depressed.
  • The wind howled its mighty objection.
  • She did not real­ize that oppor­tu­ni­ty was knock­ing at her door.

The stars danc­ing in the sky is clear­ly a metaphor, espe­cial­ly as it is most often the move­ment of the per­son that caus­es the effect, but the con­cept of danc­ing in the sky brings the stars clos­er to the read­er in some way, pro­vides a con­cept they can imag­ine. The house appear­ing depressed is cer­tain­ly the type of word­ing that can be used by a blog­ger, espe­cial­ly if they are dis­cussing home improve­ment or flipping


Literary Device

jolly-roger-2This lit­er­ary device helps us relate actions of inan­i­mate objects to our own emo­tions.” We all know that peo­ple pay more atten­tion to oth­er peo­ple because they cause us to react with emo­tion to what they may say. We may hate them, we may love them but we are rarely indif­fer­ent to them. Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion is not mere­ly used to make writ­ing more dec­o­ra­tive but to give a deep­er mean­ing to what is being said by the writer. It can make the words more vivid and give them a human per­spec­tive.

Poets, for exam­ple, use per­son­i­fi­ca­tion to bring inan­i­mate things to life, for exam­ple mak­ing the night sky seem romantic.

This spe­cial metaphor helps a fic­tion­al read­er under­stand what is being said more effec­tive­ly, per­haps paint­ing a pic­ture. e.g. The cas­tle was like a giant ogre, men­ac­ing to the ene­my, but a gen­tle giant pro­tect­ing those in its shadow.



Most non-fic­tion writ­ers will be using per­son­i­fi­ca­tion rhetor­i­cal­ly in order to demon­strate ideas and how they should func­tion. It should mean writ­ers make ideas dance off the page and move through each of the options available.

scalesUsing rhetoric is about using lan­guage to explain ideas or con­cepts, new or old. It is about effec­tive use of lan­guage, using prose, being per­sua­sive, influ­enc­ing the thoughts or con­duct of anoth­er per­son. Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion should add a dimen­sion to your argu­ment, e.g. show with clar­i­ty why some­thing must happen:

  • Jus­tice should act blind­ly but sad­ly, at times, it is deaf.
  • Change is rare because weak lead­er­ship plagues our society.
  • Any trust I had for him walked right out the door at that moment.


Expressive Writing

Non-fic­tion writ­ers need to use every device avail­able to them in order to depict their sto­ries. Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion can be used to bring some life into those sub­jects that can be seen as dry and bor­ing. Just because a writer is describ­ing fac­tu­al events or ideas doesn’t mean the writ­ing can­not be expres­sive or interesting.


Recent related works



What do you think about per­son­i­fi­ca­tion? Is it a tac­tic you can use? Make a com­ment and give your view.
Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee to thank him for the thoughts expressed here. All images used here come from roy­al­ty free or pub­lic domain image col­lec­tions, such as Pixabay.


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