Why Do Writers Use Personification?

B. Miller

Personification is a literary technique that gives human characteristics to inanimate objects or non-living things that would otherwise not experience emotions, or other human responses to events. The purpose of this is to increase the reader's interest in the story and keep his or her attention. In addition, providing human characteristics to anything -- whether it is a tree or a piece of machinery -- immediately encourages the reader to relate to the thing being described, and can evoke emotions such as concern or sympathy. As with many other literary techniques, personification helps to make the text feel more alive and vibrant, like all the details of everyday life.

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

It may be best to explain the concept of personification with an example. If an author says the grasses in a field are dancing in the wind, for example, this is an example of personifying the plants. The grasses are clearly not dancing, they are simply moving in response to the wind currents, but saying they are dancing evokes an image of nature that is easier to picture and relate to. Saying an alarm clock is beeping angrily is another example of this. The alarm clock isn't angry, but the person listening to the alarm clock is perceiving it that way, and this helps to set the tone for the story. The author is indicating that the person is probably not too happy to be waking up in the morning, for instance.

Authors use personification to make a story more interesting and engaging to the reader.
Authors use personification to make a story more interesting and engaging to the reader.

These are just a few basic examples of personification, but they do help to illustrate the reason an author might use this technique. One of the cardinal rules of good writing is to "show, not tell," and personification is one of the best ways to convey a mood or image without directly saying it. Describing the grass as dancing across the field, for instance, may convey an image of a beautiful, peaceful field without actually having to describe the field as being beautiful or peaceful.

Another reason authors use personification is to make the story more interesting and engaging to the reader, making it more likely they will keep going. Describing something this way forces the reader to visualize it, which brings him or her deeper into the story. In some instances, personification may also make the reader think about things differently, or gain a new perspective. This technique is often used in advocacy campaigns, for example, because people are more likely to want to care for something that they experience an emotional response to.

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Discussion Comments


Poems using personification are very moving, in my opinion. When someone is composing poetry, they really have to make the most of their words, because it's best not to cram too many words into one line.

Even with free verse, less is more. Personification helps the writer make sound, powerful points with short phrases.

Lengthy descriptions just don't work in poetry. There has to be a flow and a rhythm, and it is easier to find that when you use appropriate personification.


This article taught me something I never knew. I have always combined descriptions like “beautiful” and “tranquil” with personifications, and I now see that I didn't really need to do that. I've been going overboard with my descriptive words, and I see that personification alone is enough.


@Kristee – Yes, even though a person can be told what personification is, they can't necessarily be taught to use it correctly. However, trying never hurt anyone.

I believe that everyone can improve their writing by learning new techniques. I had been using personification here and there in my writing without knowing what it was, but I believe that I now use it much more efficiently after learning more about it in college. So, though some people may never get the hang of it, the ones who understand it can improve by learning more about how the greats used it.


I think that teaching personification to someone would be hard. It's more of a natural talent that some writers just have.

Many people just don't get subtlety, so it is really hard for them to make up some of their own. I had a writing class in college with kids who could not paint a picture with their words for anything, but there were a few students who had the gift.

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