What Is Personification? Definition, Examples, Usage

Rabbit with horn

Have you ever encountered a story with a subject that is nonhuman, having or doing human traits or actions? Then you've probably encountered examples of personification.

What is personification?

Personification​ is a literary device used to give human traits to animals or nonliving objects.

Characteristics of ​Personification​:

  • Widely used in poetry and in children's literature
  • Gives the reader a sense that nonliving objects have personality or thoughts
  • Makes the poem or story more interesting and sometimes more meaningful

Other playful literary devices found in poetry include:

  • Metaphor and Simile, which both compare two things
  • Hyperbole, which is a dramatic exaggeration and alliteration and uses the same sound to begin several words

Note

Think of the word "person" when you think of "personification." If the author is describing a nonperson having traits that only a person has, it's personification.

How can we tell if personification is being used?

Having trouble identifying ​personification​ in writing? Here are some helpful steps:

1. Find a description of an animal or nonliving object in the passage.

2. Look for words in the description that can be used to describe a human.

  • These may be emotion words, such as "happy" and "confused"
  • They may describe body parts such as eyes or feet

3. Determine which of these descriptive words can be applied only to humans; these are the descriptions that constitute ​personification​.

For example, "The door stretched its arms wide to welcome us home" is an example of personification because doors don't have arms. On the other hand, "The dog was hungry" is not personification because hunger is not only a human trait, but also a trait of animals.

4. Read between the lines to determine whether ​personification​ exists in a poem or story.

  • The author may not explicitly describe human characteristics for an animal
  • A talking animal is an example of ​personification​ because only humans can talk

Generally, identify personification where the author describes something non-human with human characteristics.

What are some examples of personification?

To help understand and see examples of ​personification​ in writing, here are some common examples to help!

  • "The leaves waved at the wind." - Because the leaves are nonhuman, doing the human action of waving, ​personification​ is being used.
  • "The ocean heaved a sigh." - The ocean does not actually breath like a human, so ​personification​ allows for that action.
  • "The sun smiled at us." - The sun does not have a face like human, so the smiling action is made possible from ​personification​.
  • "He did not realize that his last chance was walking out the door." - Changes are nonhuman things taking on a personified action of walking.
  • "The first rays of morning tiptoed through the meadow." - Rays of morning are not physical and therefore cannot tiptoe like a human.

For more famous examples of ​personification​, we can see:

Titles:

  • “The Brave Little Toaster” (a novel by Thomas M. Disch and adapted animated film series)
  • “Happy Feet” (an animated musical film)
  • “Time Waits for No One” (a song by The Rolling Stones)
  • “The Little Engine that Could” (a children’s book by Watty Piper)

Quotes:

  • “The sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” (Seinfeld television series)
  • “Life moves pretty fast.” (movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”)
  • “The dish ran away with the spoon.” (“Hey, diddle, diddle” by Mother Goose)
  • “The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care” (Emily Dickinson)
  • “Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.” (“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein)

Although these are just a few examples of ​personification​, we can see many more examples throughout literature, music, movies, and other media forms in our society today and throughout history.