Personification – Rhetorical style means

What is a personification?

The personification is a rhetorical stylistic device . It is a kind of metaphor and is often used. The term can be derived from the Latin (persona = person, ficare = make ) and means humanization : Animals, plants or lifeless are endowed with human qualities or act like humans.


  • “A timid attempt”
  • »Time is running «
  • »Leaves dance in the wind«
  • »The sky is crying «
  • »Art and science go hand in hand «

How is a personification formed?

Animals, plants, abstract concepts, natural phenomena or lifeless things are represented in the literature as acting or speaking people . Examples of this can already be found in ancient rhetoric, in myth and especially in the literary genre Fabel.


  • Goethe portrays time (Chronos) in his poem as »Brother-in-Law Kronos«.
  • Fables of Aesop like “The Fox and the Raven”

However, personification can also be expressed in the form of verbs, adjectives or nouns . In doing so, actions, properties or concepts familiar from human interaction are transferred to abstract concepts or inanimate things. The personification is a stylistic device, which is easy to discover in texts .


  • “Faith conquers fear”
  • “I waved lucky”
  • ” Blind rage”
  • »A limping comparison«
  • ” Father State”
  • »A power- eating refrigerator«

Effect of personification

The personification can be found in literary works as well as in political speeches. It is also widely used in advertising and everyday language. By using this style figure becomes a text and language becomes livelier. Listeners and readers can more easily grasp the content. In addition, the vivid design enhances the interest and ensures the necessary attention.

Personification in the literature

Related imageThe personification is equally a stylistic device of the epic as the lyric. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the Roman thinker and writer Cicero or the poets in the Middle Ages and Baroque personified, for example, the law (“Justitia”) or the fatherland. In fables act animals that are endowed with human reason and language. The animals embody certain characteristics. The fox, for example, stands for cunning, the lion for strength and power. A famous personification in the poem is “The Girl from the Stranger” by Friedrich Schiller, in which he makes art a woman.


“Spring lets its blue ribbon
Flapping through the air again «
Eduard Mörike (1804-1875), “It’s him”

“A big sack – the farmer Bolte,
Who wanted to take him to the mill,
To hang out
Close to a ripe ear field,
Settles in graceful folds
And start making a speech. ”
Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908), “The full bag”

Personifications as a cartoon

Personification is also used to characterize a nation or to caricature its (alleged) character. Clichéd ideas of the characteristics of a people are summarized in a figure.


  • »German Michel« (Germany)
  • “Uncle Sam” (USA)
  • »John Bull« (Great Britain)

Personification in politics

Political speeches demand more than objectivity and focus on facts in order to attract the attention of the audience. So politicians use the entire range of rhetorical stylistic devices, so that the lecture shows the desired effect. Personification is one of the rhetorical devices that are quite common in everyday politics.


»The sparrows whistle from the rooftops: knowledge is the most important resource in our resource-poor country today.«
Roman Herzog, 1997, Berlin Education Forum

“Yes, the language jumps out of the bureaucratic and newspaper German out in which it was wrapped, and remembers her emotional words.”
Christa Wolf, 1989, speech on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin

Personification in advertising

The advertising works with all rhetorical possibilities of the speech design, in order to give products to a higher Bekanntheitsgrad and to increase the recognition value. Thus, in the advertising language personifications can be found in catchy slogans.


  • »Citroën – Intelligence on wheels« (car manufacturer Citroën)
  • “Because our skin is thirsty for health.” (Thermal water from Vichy)
  • »The day goes, Johnny Walker comes.« (Johnny Walker Whiskey)
  • “If you love her home, then she loves you too.” (Hornbach Baumarkt)
  • “Rennie cleans up the stomach.” (Magenmittel Rennie)
  • »We give your future a home.« (LBS)

Personification in everyday life

In everyday language, personifications can also be discovered in many areas. It is striking here that they are often associated with weather phenomena. This can be explained by the fact that they come from a time when deities were considered causally responsible for phenomena such as lightning or thunder.


  • “The sky Cries.”
  • “The sun is laughing.”
  • “The wind is shaking the door.”
  • “Nature awakens.”
  • “The storm is raging.”
  • “The day is goodbye.”

Personification, metaphor and allegory

Personification, metaphor and allegory are related. The personification is considered a form of metaphor and also has features of allegory (visualization of the abstract) on. The transitions are often fluid. A clear demarcation of these three style figures is not always easy. When examining stylistic elements in a text, personification must always be examined in the context of metaphor and allegory.

Personification and allegory

An allegory is often an extended personification. An abstract concept such as a vice, a virtue or death is symbolized by actions, attributes or speeches as a person.


“Justitia” is an allegory for justice. To create the allegory, one uses the personification: In Roman mythology, justice is portrayed as a woman with a blindfold. She holds a balance in one hand and a sword in the other. Law should be spoken without regard to the person (blindfold). A judgment is the result of careful consideration of the facts (balance) and the necessary severity (sword).

“Grim Reaper” is an allegory for death. Allegory is based on the personification of death. Since the late Middle Ages death has been portrayed as a human skeleton, naked or barely clothed in a shroud. The skeleton is scary. As a peasant cuts grass or grain (scythe), death severes the thread of life of men.

Personification and metaphor

The personification is a kind of metaphor. A metaphor is characterized by the fact that a word is not used in its actual lexical meaning. It should rather be understood in a figurative sense. As personification ascribes human qualities to the inanimate or to animals, the result is another, a metaphorical level of meaning. Both style figures can also appear together.


“My throat was frightened.”

This sentence contains both a metaphor and a personification. The constricted throat is a picture of existential need and threat and thus a metaphorical turn. At the same time, the abstract feeling of fear is assigned a human behavior. She “acts” like a human hurting another.

“He laughs happiness.”

The sentence states that the person is doing exceptionally well. He is a metaphor for example for success in the job. At the same time the actually inanimate and abstract happiness are humanized. Personification finds expression in “laughing.”