25 Personification Examples for Writers: What It Is & How to Use It

Sarah Rexford
May 24, 2024 | 12 mins

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Some of your favorite writing likely employs what we call personification, but it can be difficult to understand what that means without seeing personification examples. What is personification and what are some examples of personification? How do you know when you use this tactic in your writing?

In this article, we provide a list of personification examples for authors so you can improve your writing skills and take your book or novel to a whole new level. Personification is a great writing tool and can be used to add dynamics to a scene that otherwise would simply not exist. 

Like most writing rules, personification should be used with discretion. Everything in moderation, right? So first, let’s start with the definition of personification, then dive into some personification examples, and lastly, end with a step by step guide. 

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What is personification?

What is personification? Personification is a literary device that emphasizes a non-human’s characteristics by describing them with human attributes.

  • The dog yipped with joy and a hint of a grin on his face
  • The tree swayed in the wind, happily dancing along
  • A new and energetic wind

Personification, when used in specific instances, can help make non-human nouns (for instance, a tree), act like a human and come to life. 

Have you ever felt the tense grip of cold? The spiteful bite of wind? The loving caress of a warm, gentle wave on the shore? These are personification examples in writing. 

When it comes to examples of personification for authors specifically, consider this: Every writer and reader knows and understands the human experience personally. What better way to create a connection between the story and those reading it than to employ what we all connect with most—humanity? 

Now that you have a basic understanding of what personification is, what is an example of personification? Let's go over a list of 25 examples of personification that will help you form a better understanding of this literary device.

25 personification examples for authors

Below is a list of personification examples for authors that you may or may not easily pick up on. However, it’s important to provide you with a few examples prior to a definition so you can pick up on a few areas: how easily it can blend in, how it helps the setting come alive, and how it’s been done.

1. The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

“Once there was a tree

And she loved little boy.

And every day the boy would come

And he would gather her leaves

And make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

[…] And the boy loved the tree very much.

And the tree was happy.

But time went by,

And the boy grew older.

And the tree was often alone.”

The Giving Tree is one of the most popular personification examples. The tree experiences love, happiness, and loneliness, giving it human qualities.

2. A Separate Peace, John Knowles

“Peace had deserted Devon. Although not in the look of the campus and village; they retained much of their dreaming summer calm. Fall had barely touched the full splendor of the trees, and during the height of the day the sun briefly regained its summertime power. In the air there was only an edge of coolness to imply the coming winter. But all had been caught up, like the first fallen leaves, by a new and energetic wind.”

In A Separate Peace, peace deserts, fall touches, and the wind is energetic. There are so many personification examples in this one quote alone, and many more within the full novel.

3. The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe

“Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim.”

The Tell-Tale Heart is a wonderful example of personification in writing. Death is made into a character in its own right, and it stalks and moves like only a human can.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

“There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently. […] Light pours down upon it from the sun, true, but also heat rises, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: like holding your hand an inch above an arm, a shoulder. It breathes, in the warmth, breathing itself in.”

In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale we get plenty of personification examples. In the quote above, the garden breathes and is subversive, qualities no garden can truly have.

5. Flight, John Steinbeck

“Five-fingered ferns hung over the water and dropped spray from their fingertips.”

Steinbeck's short story Flight gives five-finger ferns actual fingertips – and gives them human actions that personify the plants.

6. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”

Yes, even Shakespeare used personification! In Romeo's famous speech, the sun is fair and the moon is envious and grieving.

7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

“Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all days with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come.”

Here is another example where death is personified. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, death is a being with toes and a house of its own.

8. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

“But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway describes the ocean as if it were a person: feminine, wicked, and withholding, making this novel the perfect example of personification.

9. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

The Haunting of Hill House is a perfect example of personification in literature. Shirley Jackson makes Hill House feel alive and sinister through the use of personification, saying the house is insane and is standing in wait.

10. Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, ‘All is well!'”

In Paul Revere's Ride, Longfellow makes the wind whisper, watch, and creep – using personification to add an enveloping atmosphere to his words.

11. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

“A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died.”

This is one of the great personification examples in literature. In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, the wine sweeps, trembles, and wanders like a person.

12. The Odyssey, Homer

“The ship danced over the waves, eager to return to Ithaca.”

In this personification example from The Odyssey, the waves dance and are eager, giving them human-like qualities.

13. Animal Farm, George Orwell

“The windmill loomed over the farm, its blades turning with a relentless determination …”

In Animal Farm, we see personification when the windmill is determined and looming over the farm.

14. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“The fire’s fingers reached out, devouring the pages of the forbidden books.”

Fahrenheit 451 personifies fire by giving it fingers and allowing it to devour things.

15. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

“The moors sighed with the weight of the secrets they held, whispering tales of love and revenge.”

Wuthering Heights makes the moors a main character in the story by giving them the ability to hold secrets and sigh.

16. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

“The sun persists in rising, so I make myself stand.”

In The Hunger Games, we see personification when the sun is persisting in its action, as if it has the choice to do so.

17. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon / Who is already sick and pale with grief …”

Here we have two personification examples in the sun and the moon. The moon is sick with grief and the sun has the ability to kill.

18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

“The Triwizard Cup is waiting. It is waiting for you.”

When our favorite wizarding student enters his fourth year at Hogwarts, we are told that the Triwizard Cup is waiting for him as if it isn't an inanimate object.

19. Hey Diddle, Diddle, Mother Goose

“Hey, Diddle, Diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;

The little dog laughed

To see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.”

Not all personification examples come from fine literature. Nursery rhymes and poetry are full of this literary device as well! Here, the dish and the spoon run away together, making them seem very human, indeed.

20. Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room, William Blake

“Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,”

said the sunflowers, shining with dew.

“Our traveling habits have tired us.

Can you give us a room with a view?”

In William Blakes poem, sunflowers are able to talk and have human emotions.

21. Magdalen Walks, Oscar Wilde

“And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love

Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,”

In this poem, the plane whispers and the tree laughs, giving them human actions and qualities.

22. Mirror, Sylvia Plath

“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful,”

Here the mirror is personified because it is given a full monologue and it is able to swallow.

23. A Miracle to Behold, Patricia A Flemming

“Seagulls soar above her surf,

The sun reflects and gleams,

While people come from miles around

To stroll upon her beach.”

Here the ocean is called a “her,” which is one of the most subtle and simple personification examples possible.

24. Eight Balloons, Shel Silverstein

“Eight balloons no one was buyin’,

All broke loose one afternoon.

Eight balloons with strings a-flyin’,

Free to do what they wanted to.”

Shel Silverstein personifies balloons by giving them wants and whims.

25. The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe

“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before.”

Poe is a master of personification. Here the curtains are sad and uncertain.

Now that you've seen some personification examples in literature and poetry, let's talk about how you can use personification in your own writing.

Using personification examples in different genres

To help get you thinking, it’s important to include personification examples in various book genres.

What is an example of personification in horror?

“The poison snuck along the floor, crawling closer as it dripped from above.”

How about an example of personification in romance?

“The ring flirted with the sunlight, sending sparks of joy in every direction.” 

What about a dystopian sci-fi novel?

“This close to the city, oppression hung in the air. People walked with their hands over their mouths, as if attempting to keep the smog from gripping their lungs.”

Whether you write horror, romance, or dystopian fiction, personification acts as an aid in bringing your setting to life. It’s not just people who can sing, dance, mourn, laugh, sneak, and yell. 

Words can sing. Wind can dance. Rain can mourn. Waves can laugh. Vines can sneak. Thunder can yell. But how should you employ these personification examples in your own writing?

Tips for using personification

Here are our top tips for using personification:

Focus on one sense

To begin, choose what you want to come to life. Let’s say your setting is Antarctica, and your protagonist is a man with his dog sled attempting to scout the land. If you’ve ever watched Against The Ice, images likely filled your mind as you read this. 

However, try reading the book. Notice where Ejnar Mikkelsen uses personification, or could use it. Could the ice be a sleeping giant? Could the whip of the wind be a cruel villain? Focus on one aspect such as the following:

  • Touch
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Hearing
  • Sight

Next, pair one of the senses with the setting. 

  • Touch of freezing water
  • Taste of falling snow
  • Smell of desolation 
  • Hearing the creak of ice
  • Seeing the blinding sun

Finally, add a touch of humanity.

  • The water had an icy grip.
  • Ice creaked, old joints trying to stand. 
  • The air smelled desolate, as if trying to camouflage itself from the explorers.

Alright, now on to step two. 

Study non-verbals

I’m still surprised how much studying communication in undergrad prepared me to be a writer. Nonverbal communication is the one type of communication we can never refuse.

Studying the art of nonverbal communication can greatly enhance your mastery of personification. 

  • People communicate 24/7, whether they realize it or not, which means…
  • Your characters are always communicating, which means…
  • You can always employ nonverbal personification.

Have fun playing around with it and see what you come up with!

Don’t go overboard 

With personification, less is often more. Consider the following two examples:

  • The icy water gripped his shoulders, forcing him under, wrapping around him in a stiff hug, and punching the breath from his lungs. 
  • Icy water punched the breath from his lungs.

Today’s writers are often encouraged to use less description and leave the rest up to the reader. Too much detail and you risk losing your readers as they try to visualize every detail, rather than fill in the blanks for themselves. 

Let your writing leap forward

Now that you have seen quite a few personification examples and tips for using them it’s time to dive into your own writing. To start out easy, try adding one element of personification to the below examples:

  • Rain splatted the pavement.
  • Sun filled the living room.
  • He heard thunder overhead.

How did you do? If it feels awkward at first, that means you’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Embrace the discomfort and keep trying with different personification examples.  

But now it’s time to get back to your work-in-progress. You learned how to use another writing rule and now it’s time to execute your newfound knowledge. Ask yourself the following questions as you get back to your manuscript:

  • Where could personification make my story come alive?
  • Where would personification distract from my story?
  • How can I ensure I use personification just enough, and not too much?

Remember, all writing needs editing, so don’t worry about your first tries. Go all in. You can always edit out some of your personification examples later, but the practice will be worth it. Enjoy the process!

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