per·​son·​i·​fi·​ca·​tion pər-ˌsä-nə-fə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce personification (audio)
: attribution of personal qualities
especially : representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form
: a divinity or imaginary being representing a thing or abstraction

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The Art of Personification

It was long common in the visual arts to use human figures to represent a range of natural phenomena, personal qualities, abstract conceptions, and so on. The Greeks and Romans showed us how. Many of their gods and goddesses themselves represented a single thing, be it dawn (Eos, Aurora), wisdom (Athena, Minerva), or war (Ares, Mars); when depicted in idealized human form (as, say, a stately woman holding a scales), each became a personification of that phenomenon or quality or concept (in this case, Justice). Inspired by classical art, Renaissance painters and sculptors likewise began producing thousands of artistic personifications--of Time, or Folly, or France, or Vice, or Poetry, or the Americas. And in the 18th century English-speakers began using the word itself. Today artists are less inclined to such depictions, and the word gets used more often to describe actual individuals; when we call someone the personification of style, or greed, or loyalty, we mean the ideal or epitome or embodiment of that quality.

Example Sentences

the use of personification in a story a personification of justice as a woman with her eyes covered
Recent Examples on the Web The ancient Greeks did not conceive of Hades as the personification of evil a la Satan (though the underworld that Mitchell depicts is a hellish one). Jim Higgins, Journal Sentinel, 3 May 2023 That Flynn remains the leading personification of Trump’s grievances – namely that forces are out to get him – and a catalyst for additional presidential pardons based on similar motivations makes his time as national security adviser and the circumstances around his firing newly germane. NBC news, 13 Feb. 2017 Anyone looking for an epic fantasy should check out The Stand, King's post-apocalyptic novel about a deadly flu, which eventually finds the remaining humans fall into two opposing camps–one under the personification of good, and the other for evil–and preparing to duel one another. Milan Polk, Men's Health, 31 Aug. 2022 Chris Perkins, logistics lead and co-founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge (The Pledge), which connects outdoor brands with inclusion advocates to advance representation for people of color, is the personification of leveraging one’s privilege for the benefit of others. Gabaccia Moreno, Outside Online, 25 June 2021 It’s also named after a shadowy figure from Norwegian folklore, a personification of the plague itself. Marta Balaga, Variety, 5 Apr. 2023 For today’s writers, Enheduanna has become a personification of creative power, regardless of the academic debate. Elizabeth Winkler, The New Yorker, 19 Nov. 2022 Also at Yara’s deathbed is her lovebug Walter, the personification of that emotion. Tyler Coates, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 June 2022 Director Lin-Manuel Miranda had the bad luck to become the personification of everything dirtbag leftists and TikTok zoomers find cringy about Obama-era pop culture, but Netflix has done a good job of hiding him and making Andrew Garfield the face of the campaign. Vulture, 7 Feb. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'personification.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1728, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of personification was in 1728

Dictionary Entries Near personification

Cite this Entry

“Personification.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


per·​son·​i·​fi·​ca·​tion pər-ˌsän-ə-fə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce personification (audio)
: the representation of a thing or idea as a person or by the human form
: an imaginary being thought of as representing a thing or an idea
Uncle Sam is the personification of the U.S.
: a perfect example : embodiment
you are the very personification of generosity
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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