Understanding Personification: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is Personification?
  2. How to Identify Personification
  3. Why Use Personification?
  4. Examples of Personification in Literature
  5. How to Use Personification in Your Writing
  6. Common Mistakes When Using Personification
  7. Practice Using Personification

Ever wondered how your favorite authors bring life to the inanimate, emotion to the unfeeling, and voice to the silent? Meet personification, a literary device that can transform your writing and reading experience. In this guide, we'll explore the definition of personification, discover why it's used, and learn how to identify and apply it in your own writing. So, whether you're a budding writer, a curious reader, or a student searching for clarity on this topic, you're in the right place. Let's dive in.

What is Personification?

At the heart of our discussion is a simple question: What is personification? In its most basic form, the definition of personification is the act of giving human characteristics or qualities to non-human entities. This can be anything from objects and animals to abstract ideas and concepts.

Why does it matter? Because personification can make your writing more vivid, relatable, and engaging. It's a tool that allows you to paint a picture with words, transforming the ordinary into something extraordinary.

Let's break down the different aspects of personification:

  • Attribution of human characteristics: This is where you give human traits to non-human things. For example, "The sun smiled down on us."
  • Representation of abstract qualities: Ever read about "Father Time" or "Mother Nature"? That's personification! You're giving human form to abstract ideas.
  • Symbolic representation: This is when a person, animal, or object is used to represent a quality, concept, or thing. An example would be calling a generous person a "heart of gold".

By now, you should have a basic understanding of the definition of personification. But don't worry if it's still a little fuzzy—we'll explore more examples and techniques in the sections to come. Stay tuned!

How to Identify Personification

Now that we're clear on the definition of personification, the next step is learning how to spot it. You might be thinking, "Sounds tricky—how do I identify personification?" The key is to look for places where human qualities are assigned to non-human things. Let's break this down into some simple steps:

  1. Look for human actions: If a non-human thing is doing something that only humans can do, it's probably personification. For example, "The wind whistled through the trees."
  2. Identify human emotions or characteristics: If an object, animal, or concept is described with human feelings or traits, you've got personification. For instance, "The old house groaned under the weight of time."
  3. Spot symbolic representations: If a non-human thing is used to symbolically represent a human quality or concept, that's personification too. Like, "Justice is blind."

Remember, personification isn't always obvious. Sometimes it's subtle, adding a layer of depth and richness to the writing. But with practice, you'll become a pro at spotting it. So, keep an eye out as you read—personification might be hiding in the most unexpected places.

Why Use Personification?

You might be wondering, "If personification can be so subtle, why use it at all?" That's a great question. Personification isn't just a fancy literary technique—it serves a few important purposes in writing.

  1. Engages the reader: Personification can make abstract or non-human things more relatable, helping to draw the reader in. For example, saying "the sun smiled down on us" can evoke a more emotive response than simply stating "the sun shone".
  2. Creates vivid imagery: By attributing human characteristics to non-human things, personification helps to paint a more vivid picture in the reader's mind. It adds depth and richness to the writing, making it more engaging.
  3. Conveys complex ideas: Sometimes, personification can be used to express complex human emotions or ideas in a simple and relatable way. For instance, "time flies" is a personification that we use to express the feeling of time passing quickly.

So, while personification may require a bit more effort to identify, you can see that it's worth it. It adds a whole new layer of meaning and engagement to your writing, making it more interesting and impactful. And who doesn't want their writing to be more interesting, right?

Examples of Personification in Literature

Personification is a common feature in literature, and you've likely come across it many times without even realizing. Let's dive into a few examples to help solidify your understanding.

  1. William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud": In this famous poem, Wordsworth personifies daffodils as dancing and fluttering in the breeze, creating a lively image that sticks with the reader.

For instance, "The waves beside them danced; but they out-did the sparkling waves in glee." Here, both the waves and the daffodils are personified, adding a joyful tone to the poem.

  1. Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death": Dickinson uses personification to give Death human characteristics, making it seem less terrifying and more like a gentle guide.

Consider the line, "Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me –". Here, Death is personified as a courteous gentleman, which is a unique perspective that adds intrigue to the poem.

  1. John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath": Steinbeck uses personification to illustrate the harsh conditions faced by the characters in his novel.

For example, "The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet." Here, the sun and the corn are personified to create a vivid image of the damaging effects of the harsh weather.

As you can see, personification is a powerful tool in literature. It can turn a simple description into a memorable image, a scary concept into a relatable character, or a static scene into a dynamic one. So, the next time you're reading a book or a poem, pay attention—you might just spot some personification!

How to Use Personification in Your Writing

Now that you've got a grasp of the definition of personification and seen it in action, how about we explore ways to incorporate it into your own writing? Here are some pointers to guide you:

  1. Start with what you know: Look at the world around you. See that tree swaying in the wind? Maybe it's dancing. The clock ticking away? Perhaps it's impatient. Use your imagination to give human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract ideas.
  2. Keep it natural: Personification should flow seamlessly in your writing. Avoid forcing it where it doesn't fit. If it sounds awkward or out of place, it's better to leave it out.
  3. Use it to enhance your narrative: Personification can bring your stories to life. It can make your descriptions more vivid and your characters more relatable. But remember, like any literary device, it's best used in moderation. Overuse can lead to confusion or make your writing seem contrived.

Ultimately, the key to effectively using personification lies in your creativity—your ability to see the world in a new light and convey that vision to your readers. So, why not give it a try? You might be surprised at how much depth and richness it can add to your writing.

Common Mistakes When Using Personification

Learning the definition of personification and wielding it effectively in your writing are two different things. So, let's take a moment to discuss some common pitfalls you might encounter when using personification:

  1. Forcing it: If a sentence feels unnatural or overly complicated with personification, it's better to simplify. Remember, personification should enhance your writing, not make it harder to understand.
  2. Overusing it: Personification is like a spice. Used correctly, it can enhance the flavor of your writing. But too much can overwhelm the reader and obscure your message. Balance is key.
  3. Confusing personification with metaphor or simile: While all three are figurative language techniques, they are not interchangeable. Personification involves giving human traits to non-human entities. Metaphors and similes, on the other hand, imply a comparison.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help ensure your personification hits the mark. But remember, it's okay to make mistakes—it's part of the learning process. With practice and careful editing, you'll soon master the art of personification.

Practice Using Personification

Now that you understand the definition of personification, let's put that knowledge into practice. The best way to learn is by doing, after all. Here are some exercises to help you get started:

  1. Describe a scene: Think of a natural scene, like a storm brewing or a forest at dawn. Try to describe it using personification. Can you make the storm seem angry or the forest seem welcoming?
  2. Write about an object: Choose an everyday object, such as a book or a chair. How can you give it human characteristics? Could the book be "thirsty for knowledge" or the chair "tired after a long day"?
  3. Revise a sentence: Take a plain sentence and revise it using personification. For example, "The wind blew" could become "The wind whispered secrets to the trees".

Remember, the goal of these exercises isn't to create perfect sentences. It's to get comfortable with personification and to start thinking creatively about how to use it in your writing. So don't stress about getting it "right". Just have fun with it!

If you enjoyed learning about personification and want to delve further into the world of character creation, be sure to check out Kit Buss's workshop, 'Creating Characters: The Design Process.' This workshop will guide you through the process of designing unique and engaging characters, enhancing your storytelling skills and bringing your narratives to life.