Writing

Writing 101: What Is Personification? Learn About Personification in Writing With Examples

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 2 min read

In writing, figurative language—using words to convey a different meaning outside the literal one—helps writers express themselves in more creative ways. One popular type of figurative language is personification: assigning human attributes to a non-human entity or inanimate object to express a point or idea in a more colorful, imaginative way.

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What Is Personification in Writing?

Personification is a literary device that uses the non-literal use of language to convey concepts in a relatable way. Writers use personification to give human characteristics, such as emotions and behaviors, to non-human things, animals, and ideas. The statement “the story jumped off the page” is a good example of personification.

What Is the Purpose of Personification in Writing?

Personification stretches the boundaries of reality to make literature and poetry more vivid. Personification can also be used to:

  • Better explain concepts and ideas. Personification creates a way to accurately and concisely describe concepts and ideas. Take the phrase “opportunity knocks”: the unconventional subject-verb pairing is a creative and instantly recognizable way to describe the hope and promise presented by a new opportunity.
  • Forge a deeper connection with the reader. Giving objects, ideas, and animals human qualities makes them instantly relatable to readers. For example, Jack London describes “stars leaping” through a night sky in Call of the Wild.
  • Illustrate setting. Personification is an effective tool for placing a reader in the story with a 360-degree view of the setting. In Bleak House, Charles Dickens describes a thick fog settling as rolling, hovering, creeping, and “cruelly pinching” the toes and fingers of a boy.

What Are the Other Types of Figurative Language in Writing?

Figurative language is a writing technique that uses a non-literal description to create a more vivid image, important for writing rich, compelling prose. Here are some of the most widely-used types of figurative language:

  • Simile. A simile is a direct comparison between two things that usually uses the words “like” or “as.” For example, “crazy like a fox.”
  • Metaphor. A metaphor is a non-literal comparison that says something is something else. For example: “All the world’s a stage.”
  • Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the object it is describing. For example: “tick tock” and “moo.”
  • Oxymoron. An oxymoron is a combination of words with contrasting definitions. For example: “jumbo shrimp” and “old news.”
  • Irony. Irony is the contrast between what appears to be real versus actual reality.
  • Hyperbole. A hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration to make a point. For example: “She’s as thin as a string bean.”

2 Examples of Personification in Literature

Authors often use personification throughout their writing to make a story more lively. Here are some examples of popular works that incorporated personification:

  1. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. In Shirley Jackson’s acclaimed horror novel, she uses personification to turn a house into a living entity. Jackson describes the house as maniacal, arrogant, with a face that seems “awake,” applying figurative language to escalate fear and tension.
  2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride. Longfellow uses personification to help readers envision the slow, deliberate silence enveloping Paul Revere as he waits for the signal of a British invasion. In one example, Longfellow describes the night wind as “watchful,” and “creeping along from tent to tent, seeming to whisper, ‘All is well!’”

Learn more about writing techniques in Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass.