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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