How Do I Recognize Sentences with Personification?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden
Personification applies emotion to nonhumans.
Personification applies emotion to nonhumans.

Sentences with personification are complete grammatical constructions in which an object or abstract idea is described as possessing human qualities or engaging in human actions. Such objects or abstractions that are given human traits or actions are said to be "personified." To recognize sentences with personification, one should first search a sentence for a nonhuman object, creature, or abstract idea and examine how that part of the sentence is described. If it is described with terms normally applied to humans and not to the type of object being described, personification is likely being used. An object described purely in terms of its physical traits without any attempted human connection, on the other hand, is likely not being personified.

Personification is particularly common when reading poetry.
Personification is particularly common when reading poetry.

More than simply offering a clear description of an object or abstraction, sentences with personification tend to provide the reader with a new way of looking at an idea or thing, or to suffuse something inherently devoid of emotion with some kind of emotional effect. One can easily recognize sentences with personification by searching for emotionally-charged language applied to unfeeling, nonhuman objects or concepts. While there is no personification in "the hot, bright sun," personification is used in "the nurturing, loving sun." Descriptions of temperature and brightness are not particularly characteristic of humans while "loving" and "nurturing" can both be seen as very human traits. In particular, these descriptions serve to give the sun somewhat maternal qualities, a common trend in literature.

The legendary fables that are attributed to Aesop offer many examples of personification.
The legendary fables that are attributed to Aesop offer many examples of personification.

Personification can be used in poetry or in prose, though it is particularly common in poetry. It is especially common in poetry intended to glorify nature or some divine principle. Sentences with personification in such works often refer to the wind singing, the rain whispering, and the trees reaching toward the sky. By giving aspects of nature these human qualities, the writer can create a scene in which the natural world itself possesses human qualities. These qualities tend to be used to glorify nature or to show that even nature itself praises some divine element.

Personification may be used in stories to evoke emotions in a reader.
Personification may be used in stories to evoke emotions in a reader.

One should also look at instances wherein elements of nature are made to seem menacing when looking for sentences with personification. Nature, described objectively, tends to be a powerful but impersonal force. In some situations, however, elements of nature can be quite frightening; this is often communicated through the use of sentences with personification. Wind "screams," a storm "rages through the night," and tree branches have "clawed hands." Looking for traits that make the cold, impersonal elements of nature more personal and human is a good way to recognize sentences with personification.

Discussion Comments

fBoyle

I used to confuse metaphor and personification with one another. But I've finally figured it out. Metaphor is when one thing is compare with another. For example, "grandparents are a tree's roots, the parents are the branches and children the fruits."

Personification on the other hand, is when something non-human is given human characteristics. For example, the rabbit and the caterpillar in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" were both personified. They both talked, the rabbit wore clothes and glasses and the caterpillar smoked.

SarahGen

@bluedolphin-- Yes, that's personification because stubbornness is a human trait, hair can't be stubborn.

When you see a sentence like this, single out the adjective and think about whether this is a human trait or not. When something other than a person is described as being kind, naive, vain, stubborn, thoughtful, rude, etc., personification is being used. Personification is usually used for objects and animals.

bluedolphin

Can anyone tell me if the following sentence is personification? "Her stubborn hair kept getting in the way of her eyes." I can't figure it out.

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    • Personification applies emotion to nonhumans.
      By: Irochka
      Personification applies emotion to nonhumans.
    • Personification is particularly common when reading poetry.
      By: vpardi
      Personification is particularly common when reading poetry.
    • The legendary fables that are attributed to Aesop offer many examples of personification.
      By: daniaphoto
      The legendary fables that are attributed to Aesop offer many examples of personification.
    • Personification may be used in stories to evoke emotions in a reader.
      By: xiaofoto
      Personification may be used in stories to evoke emotions in a reader.