personification, figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities, e.g., allegorical morality plays where characters include Good Deeds, Beauty, and Death. John Ruskin termed sentimentalized, exaggerated personification the "pathetic fallacy." See also allegory; apostrophe; metonymy.

Personification is an ontological metaphor in which a thing or abstraction is represented as a person.

The term "personification" may apply to:

  1. The act of personifying.
  2. A person or thing typifying a certain quality or idea; an embodiment or exemplification: "He's invisible, a walking personification of the Negative" (Ralph Ellison).
  3. An artistic representation of an abstract quality or idea as a person.


Some simple examples of personification in English:

In business and political news reportage, personification is commonly used to convey a sense of agency for otherwise abstract entities like nations, machines or corporations:

  • US Defends Sale of Ports Company to Arab Nation

In English literature, personification is oft-used as a literary device:

  • In John Keats's To Autumn, the fall season is personified as "sitting careless on a granary floor" (line 14) and "drowsed with the fume of poppies" (line 17).
  • In John Donne's Holy Sonnet X, death is personified as a "slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate sucking men" (line 9).

Similar figures of speech

The pathetic fallacy is the generalization of personification which applies to any description of inanimate objects or abstractions imbuing them with human-like traits. Anthropomorphism is a particular form of personification which gives such traits to tangible objects or natural phenomena. These are all allusive figures of speech called tropes.

Personification is not to be confused with prosopopoeia, which is the act of an author or writer narrating as another person or some other object. An apostrophe is where one addresses a personified or anthropomorphized object.

See also


External sources

  • Unknown, . "Personification" Poetry As We See It. 1 June 2003. ThinkQuest. 30 May 2008.

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