LITERAL AND FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE LITERAL LANGUAGE If a person uses literal language it is true to fact, and is used in a completely

standard way, with its primary or basic meaning. In a literal comparison, things from the same general class are compared, e.g., "That dog is bigger than mine". Here, two dogs are compared. In a figurative comparison, the persons or things compared are basically unlike but have some quality in common, e.g., "He growled like a dog when I asked him for help". FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE Language is either figurative (metaphorical) or literal. Figurative language suggests more than the words themselves, in order to achieve a special meaning or effect. FIGURES OF SPEECH Figures of speech are expressions that employ language in a non-literal, unusual, or imaginative way to create a particular effect. Common figures of speech are the simile, the metaphor, personification, alliteration, antithesis. DENOTATION AND CONNOTATION What a word or name denotes is what it means or refers to, i.e., the word has a literal or obvious meaning as distinguished from the suggestive meaning or association. DENOTATION In literary usage, the denotation of a word is its primary meaning or what it refers to; the denotation is the explicit or specific meaning commonly given by a dictionary, and distinguished from suggestions, associations, or connotations, e.g., one denotation of "light" is "illumination; the electromagnetic radiation that makes vision possible". DENOTE Denote is often misused for "show". Denote is "to signify, mean; to express by a symbol, or sign, to indicate", e.g., "The word, 'coward' denotes 'an ignoble, craven person'". What a word denotes, is what it literally means, its obvious meaning. In addition, most words also connote something, i.e., a word implies or suggests associations or ideas other than the literal meaning. The CONNOTATION of a word or phrase is an


association or idea suggested by that word or phrase. The connotation is the idea or quality it makes you think of. CONNOTATION The connotations of a word are the ideas, qualities, or references generally associated with that word, in addition to its denotation, e.g., the connotations of "water" are life, growth, cleansing, religious rites, etc. Words will have many different, even opposing connotations, e.g., "fire" has connotations of warmth, life, and energy, as well as of destruction, suffering, and violence. "Fire" also has connotations of love and lust. Writers use words rich in connotation, but ALL the connotations may not be relevant in a particular context. Compare the connotations of "red" in each of the following: a. O, my luve's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: (Robert Burns: "A red, red rose") In this song, the word "red" connotes passion, intensity, beauty, not bloodshed or Communism. b. Our people's flag is deepest red It shrouded oft our martyred dead. ("The Red Flag") In this description, "red" has connotations of glorious sacrifice, power, Socialism, and tragic martyrdom. Example: Examine the word “lamb”. Give its denotations and connotations. 1. the young of a sheep 2 the meat of a young sheep 3. a person, especially a child who is innocent, meek, good, etc 4. a person easily deceived CONNOTATION innocence, goodness, sweetness, unaggressiveness, passive, sacrificial victim, pure DENOTATION FIGURATIVE OR METAPHORICAL LANGUAGE Language is either figurative (metaphorical) or literal. Figurative language suggests more than the words themselves, in order to achieve a special meaning or effect. A word or phrase is used other than in its literal or plain and ordinary meaning. Figurative language produces a special effect. Examples: 2

a. b. a. b. a. b.

Lightning flashed across the sky (literal) The fan ran towards the kwaito performers like a flash of lightning. (metaphorical) I am walking on the ground. (literal) I am walking on air now that I have heard that I passed the exam. (metaphorical) All the bees returned to the hive at evening. The classroom was hive of activity.

In each sentence a. above, we are using the word or phrase in a literal sense. There is actual lightning in the sky; I am actually walking on the ground; there are real bees flying home. In each sentence b. above, we are using the words and phrases figuratively or metaphorically. The fan is running quickly, but not as quickly as lightning. I cannot walk on air; I mean that I am very happy. There are no bees in the classroom; the children are very busy. In each of the second sentences, we are using a figure of speech. (A figurative usage is sometimes called a trope, so if you see the word, “trope”, do not become confused.) NOTE: Advertisements make constant use of figures of speech. It is a good idea to read or listen to advertisements as a way to revise you figures of speech! Generally, figures of speech include all the various kinds of figurative uses. Example: He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ringed with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "The Eagle") The underlined phrases are examples of figurative usage: the eagle does not literally have "hands", but the personification powerfully reinforces the image of the eagle as a potentate. Similarly, the mountain's steep crags can be considered "walls", and the simile, "like a thunderbolt", conveys the speed, suddenness, and the potentially destructive results of the eagle's descent. Many figurative expressions have become fixed in the English language. They originate in literature, the Bible, history, fables, and the speech (including slang of particular localities.) Idioms are an easy way to express ideas but these expressions are generally considered weak because they are so familiar, even clichéd. They are often used automatically and without thought. The speaker or writer doesn’t stop to think of a more suitable expression or an original way to say something. 3

Examples: a. "The sword of Damocles" refers to evil foreboded or dreaded, named after Damocles, a courtier of Dionysius the Elder, of Syracuse. Damocles was seated in front of a banquet but with a sword held only by a hair suspended above him. b. "To take a person down a peg" means "to take the arrogance and pride out of a person". The allusion is to a ship's colours, which used to be raised or lowered by pegs. If the colours were lowered, it indicated less honour. Many of these expressions are idiomatic. See the section on idioms, idiomatic usage and idiomatic expressions which follows this introduction. WHAT ARE FIGURES OF SPEECH? Figures of speech are expressions that employ language in a non-literal, unusual, or imaginative way to create a particular effect. Common figures of speech are < the simile < the metaphor < personification < alliteration < antithesis We shall be discussing these and other figures of speech in this lesson. Well used, figures of speech give strength, vividness, and distinction to a piece of writing. Do not use figures of speech that are over-worked and have lost their power, e.g., "I am as cold as ice"; "He was fatter than a pig". These are clichéd and over-used. Do not use too many figures of speech; your writing will become over-decorated and artificial. Many figures of speech are idiomatic or proverbial, e.g., "a dark horse; "a storm in a teacup"; "a dog-in-the-manger"; "to look a gift horse in the mouth"; "to take the cake". TO SUM UP: Literal language is used to make a direct, straightforward statement. Figurative language is used when meaning is suggested to the imagination, perhaps through a picture or a comparison. Figurative language varies from ordinary speech which serves to make language, spoken or written, more vivid or forceful. Figurative language, metaphorical language, figures of speech: these are interchangeable terms which refer to highly coloured, vigorous language which is used to add emphasis to the written or spoken word. To arouse interest, speakers and writers use many devices, such as 4

comparison, contrast, exaggeration, veiled remarks, remarks which mean the opposite of the actual words, remarks intended to hurt, and many others. Each has its own name. Those who study literature usually adopt the name given by the Greeks. You will find the more common figures of speech or literary devices in newspapers, magazines, books, on radio and television, and, of course, in the literature and language of your senior English studies. You are expected to know the meanings of these terms, to know how to spell them correctly, and to be able to identify them when they occur. Then, most difficult of all, you must be able to analyse and discuss figures of speech. Look up idiomatic expressions in a dictionary, look under the main word. For example, to find the idiom "to cry one's eyes or heart out", look up "cry". Notice that often the word is not repeated; instead a dash is used to represent the main word, e.g., if you look up "safe", you might find the following: "uninjured, out of danger" (parcel came -, - and sound, is from his enemies); "giving security and not including danger" (in a - place, is it - to leave him?, is the dog - to touch?, it is - to say). Some dictionaries simply use the initial letter to indicate the word, e.g., is a s. catch (is a safe catch). Idiomatic expressions can have as their basis any part of speech. For example, idiomatic expressions with nouns or noun phrases*like "to take something with a pinch of salt", i.e., without wholly believing; "if it comes to the pinch" or "at a pinch", i.e., if it is absolutely necessary; "to come to the point", i.e., to reach the pertinent issue; "up to a point", i.e., not completely; "to score points off", i.e., to gain an advantage at someone else's expense; "at close quarters", i.e., engaged in hand to hand combat or very near together; "to make short work of", i.e., to handle or dispose of very quickly, (informal usage). THE SIMILE A simile is a direct comparison between two generally unlike things or actions which have a common quality. A simile is usually introduced by the words "like", "as" or "than". Other comparative words that you may find: as ... as; as if ...; so; as ... so. The simile is used for vividness of expression. Examples: 1. He is taller than a mountain.

We want to draw attention to how big he is, and we are exaggerating (see hyperbole in a later lesson). 2. She thinks like a donkey.

We do not mean that there is any bodily resemblance between the woman and a donkey. We are drawing attention to a similarity in behaviour. We are suggesting that she is stupid.


NOTE: A simile must involve figurative language. “He’s as scared as you are” is not a simile. It is merely a comparative statement. Similes are common in everyday speech. Many uses of similes are familiar. We have seen the same simile many times. This is called a clichèd use of language, because it has been used so often that it lacks impact. Examples of such over-used clichès: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. The Grade 7 who misbehaved so badly was sent to the Principal’s office. He went in like a lion, but came out like a lamb! My throat is as dry as a bone. He is as dirty as a pig. She is as sly as a fox. The children ran like lightning. Her coat fitted like a glove. The old man’s expression was like granite. The young girl is as fair as a lily. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds. My son is as slow as a tortoise. That thief is as slippery as an eel. Since she’s been on diet she’s as thin as a rake.

Here are other examples of similes. The ones from the Bible were fresh when the Bible was written (thousands of years ago), but you might think they are a little clichèd now! The other examples are fresh and interesting. Examples: a. As for man, his days are as grass: As a flower in the field, so he flourisheth. Psalm 103:15 b. "But the Leitishev road was long and dusty, and Hershel's shoes were thinner than a pauper's soup." Ernest Kinoy: The Merry Jests of Hershel Ostropolier My grandmother sat there under a small lemon tree next to the hut, as big as fate, as forbidding as a mountain, stern as a mimosa tree. Ez'kia Mphahlele: Down Second Avenue


What are our steps when dealing with a figure of speech? STEPS TO HELP YOU TACKLE A FIGURE OF SPEECH: 1. 2. 3. 4. Find the use of a figure of speech. Identify which figure of speech it is. Explain the figure of speech. Analyse the figure of speech. 6

Let’s do those steps using the last example given above: My grandmother sat there under a small lemon tree next to the hut, as big as fate, as forbidding as a mountain, stern as a mimosa tree. Ez'kia Mphahlele: Down Second Avenue STEP 1 Find the use of a figure of speech Note that the conjunction "as" alerts the reader to the use of a comparison. The similes are as big as fate as forbidding as a mountain stern as a mimosa tree STEP 2 Identify which figure of speech it is. They are all similes. STEP 3 Explain the figure of speech. The grandmother’s size is described as being as big as fate. “Fate” is a power that some people believe controls everything that happens. She is as “forbidding” (having a severe and unfriendly appearance) as a mountain, and she is as Astern” (rigorous and unsparing in the treatment of others) as a mimosa tree. A mimosa tree is a small tree with yellow flowers that grows in hot countries. STEP 4 Analyse the figure of speech. These comparisons indicate that the grandmother was large, both physically and in her personal impact, uninviting in the way a mountain can be, and severe and harsh. To say that she was “as big as fate” suggests that her impact on others was enormous. Her physical presence was as overwhelming as fate would be, if you could confront it. A mountain is hard and fixed, and so the description of the grandmother suggest that she, too, is fierce and immovable, and her manner is severe and unfriendly. Finally, describing her as a mimosa tree suggests that she is harsh towards others. When you read a simile, always ask yourself: what thoughts does the picture bring to my mind? You might have seen the way I set out my analysis of a simile on TV. Start with your sentence: 7

The mud was like toffee. What is being compared to what? mud to toffee. So, call the two points X and Y, like this: The mud (X) was like toffee (Y). Then take the Y: toffee. What does toffee suggest? Write all the ideas down under “toffee”. Y toffee dark brown caramel coloured sticky thick Now relate all these ideas to the X. X mud dark brown caramel coloured sticky thick If you are talking about children playing in mud, then there a few other things you could add: Y toffee dark brown caramel coloured sticky thick fun enjoyable gives pleasure fun brings joy and happiness All these things are true of mud under certain circumstances. Now you ask yourself: How good is the comparison? How effective is it? Well, it’s not bad. The more ideas the comparison generates, the better the simile. This one created quite a lot of ideas: mud is dark brown or caramel coloured, sticky and thick. Children get a lot of fun and pleasure from playing in mud. But, don’t forget: toffee is other things also that mud isn’t! (good to eat, for one thing).


TO SUM UP: A simile is a comparison between two things, unlike except in one respect. It is a statement of likeness between two things, which focuses usually on the one thing they have on common. The likeness is expressed definitely and directly because the simile is introduced by words of comparison. To analyse, you must say: WHAT is being compared to WHAT and WHY? A simile stresses the aspect of the subject which the writer wants emphasised. It also enriches by association. THE METAPHOR REVISION In the section discussing the simile, we said that a simile is a direct comparison between two things, and we gave an example: She thinks like a donkey. He is as cunning as a fox. To be more forceful, we may say: She is a donkey. He is a fox. This goes further than a comparison. It suggests that the person and the donkey or the fox are one and the same being (which, of course, is nonsense!). The figure of speech used here is a metaphor. When you use a metaphor, you do not say that one thing is LIKE something else; you say it IS something else. So, we can define “metaphor” like this: A METAPHOR is a figure of speech where one thing is described as if it were something else. In a metaphor, you apply a quality or action to something to which it is not literally applicable. Some people describe a metaphor as ∃ a compressed simile ∃ an implied simile ∃ an implied comparison ∃ a compressed comparison ∃ a direct comparison I don’t really like anything that talks about a metaphor as a comparison, because you are not comparing two things. You are saying one thing IS something else.


Examples: a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. The President’s speech electrified his audience. Did not our hearts burn within us? Superman is a man of steel. The road was a river of running water. The ships ploughed through the waves. My blood boils when I think of what she has done. His iron muscles bulged with strength. He’s a dirty pig. All the world’s a stage (Shakespeare)

What are our steps when dealing with a figure of speech? STEPS TO HELP YOU TACKLE A FIGURE OF SPEECH: 5. 6. 7. 8. Find the use of a figure of speech. Identify which figure of speech it is. Explain the figure of speech. Analyse the figure of speech.

Let’s do those steps using this example from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Confronted by the conspirators, Caesar exclaims: Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus! Step 1 The figure of speech is contained in the word “Olympus”. Step 2 This is a metaphor Step 3 Caesar closely identifies himself with Olympus, the mountain home of the gods in Greek mythology. He us saying that, in the same way that Olympus cannot be lifted up, so he, too, cannot be moved. Step 4 Caesar is arrogantly associating himself with the gods. Caesar appears to view himself as a god in terms of the power and position he holds in Rome. Let us do another example, this time using our X-Y technique: The director launched the scheme. X 10 Y

the starting of the scheme What does the Y quality suggest?

the launching of a ship the beginning of the ship’s voyaging the well-wishes of the onlookers excitement looking forward to what is to come eagerness expectation

What does this suggest about the X quality, the launching of the scheme? the scheme has just been started everyone wishes it well those involved are excited about its success looking forward to what is to come eager full of expectation Here is another example: In a poem by Wordsworth, England is described as a “fen of stagnant water”. Vocabulary fen: an area of wet flat land, especially in eastern England stagnant: water that is not flowing, and is often dirty and unhealthy Notice the following about the use of the metaphor: 1. 2. 3. a concrete picture is given feelings are aroused an idea is conveyed

The image implies that England is becoming rotten and decaying because there is no progress, creativity or inspiration. This rouses feelings of revulsion as we imagine green, slimy, smelly water that should normally be sparkling and refreshing. The image appeals to our sense of smell and sight because of the concrete quality of the image. Thus the idea is conveyed. NOTE: The metaphor is often found in the action of a sentence; look carefully at the verb. Examples: 11

1. 2. 3.

He showered compliments on his hostess. I boiled with anger. She froze with fright.

When you are in doubt whether a figure of speech is a simile or a metaphor, examine it to see if there is a direct comparison (usually introduced by like, so, as or than). If there is no direct comparison, the figure of speech is a metaphor Look at these examples: 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 6.1 6.2 The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold. The hungry beggar wolfed his food down. The roof collapsed with a roar like thunder. The crowd thundered their applause. Simile Metaphor Simile Metaphor

He is as proud as Lucifer. Simile Our company isn”t nearly as pleasant to work for now that Lucifer has taken over! Metaphor She is as light as a feather. The feathery touch of her fingers surprised me. She performs like a star in our team. She is the star of the team. Words came out of him like a river. Torrents of eloquence poured from the speaker. Notice how many of these expressions are clichéd! Simile Metaphor Simile Metaphor Simile Metaphor

SUSTAINED METAPHOR This is a metaphor which is developed and extends over a number of lines, or through a whole speech, poem, or other text. Example In Matthew Arnold”s poem, ADover Beach”, the sea, which is literal in stanza 1, becomes a metaphor in stanza 3. Arnold says that people”s faith used to be like the sea, but faith has now withdrawn; people are the bare shingle beaches lying dry and uncovered and naked because the waters of faith have receded. The metaphor is sustained throughout the stanza. MIXED METAPHORS



Remember to use metaphors with care. If more than one metaphor is used to make a continuing series of comparisons, they must not contradict each other in meaning. Do not mix metaphors.

MIXED METAPHORS occur when two comparisons are used together in an incongruous way. Examples: 1. 2. He embarked on a field of crime. One embarks on a ship, not into a field! The milk of human kindness burned within him. Milk can’t burn!

In the Introduction to this series of lessons, I mentioned that idioms often use figurative meanings of language, but they can be clichèd. Clichès which are strung together often result in mixed metaphors, sometimes with ridiculous results. Examples: 3. The following is attributed to Sir Boyce Roche, an 18th century member of the Irish Parliament: “Mr Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him hovering in the air and darkening the sky, but I shall nip it in the bud.” You cannot nip a rat in the bud. You nip a flower in the bud (a bud is a small flower before it has opened. If you “nip” it, you take out the bud.) 4. He was so out of his depth in the debate that he was left high and dry.

To be out of your depth is to be in water that is too deep for you to stand without its coming over your head. To be left high and dry means to be stranded and helpless, but if he is out of his depth, he’s deeply IN the water; he can’t be high and dry OUT of the water! You will produce a ridiculous mixed metaphor if, when you are comparing one thing with another in a metaphor, you suddenly switch the comparison to a third thing before completing the first comparison.

NOTE However, if you want to, you may mix metaphors to develop characterisation and for comic effect.


If the author makes a character mix his metaphors, then the reader is being told about that character: he is silly, badly educated, trying to impress people but getting everything wrong, etc. This creates a comic effect. Example: From P G Wodehouse’s novel Right Ho, Jeeves, Herbert Jenkins, 1934, chapter 9: The narrator is Bertie Wooster, and he says: “When we Woosters put our hands to the plough, we do not readily sheathe the sword.” Bertie Wooster is good-natured but a bit dim, and we laugh gently at him for this disastrous sentence. B. Nearly all of our idioms and everyday conversation abound in metaphorical expressions, many drawn from trades and games.

Examples: 1. 2. “That was an excellent suggestion - you have hit the nail on the head.” (carpentry) He was lying, but his teacher caught him out. (cricket)

Unfortunately, because we use these metaphorical expressions so often, they have become clichéd (well-worn, over-used). Avoid the use of clichéd metaphors: Examples 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. to swallow an insult to leave no stone untuned the long arm of the law/coincidence explore every avenue to have a bee in one’s bonnet

TO SUM UP: A metaphor is a description of one thing as if it were something else. To analyse a metaphor you must say: WHAT is being described as WHAT, and WHY. What is the effectiveness of a metaphor? A metaphor ∃ enriches by association ∃ adds precision by focusing on a particular element TIP 14

In your writing, try to use metaphors rather than similes. Metaphors are more difficult to write, but have more of an effect. Learners often say they can’t use metaphors in an argumentative or discursive writing, but, even if your material is largely abstract and you are dealing mainly with ideas, fresh and thoughtful metaphor can still help you make pictures in your reader’s mind.

TASK 1 Analyse the effectiveness of: 1. 2. The leaves feathered the sky. At night our slamming voices Must seem loud.

TASK 2 Which sentence contains a metaphor? 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 The minutes crept slowly by. The lion crept towards its prey. The plane flies very high overhead. Whenever something goes wrong, the learner flies to tell the teacher. The little child loves to hammer on its drum. The Governing Body needs to hammer out the religious policy for the school. When her boyfriend left her, my sister was in floods of tears. In the Bible, we read about Noah who survived the flood that God sent.

TASK 3 Using words metaphorically. Use each of the following nouns metaphorically in a sentence of your own. Example: veil He threw a veil over his past so that none of us would know what he had done.


Nouns to use in sentences: stepping-stone iron forest hurdle


door glow



TASK 4 Using words literally and metaphorically. Use each of the following words in two sentences of your own - literally in the first sentence and metaphorically in the second. The words may be used in any of their forms, e.g. rain, rains, rained, raining. Example: whip 1. 2. The driver whipped the horses to make them go faster. The wind whipped my hair.

Words to use in sentences: Plough jump pour fish poke drag wade

SUGGESTED ANSWERS TO TASKS TASK 1 1. The leaves feathered the sky. In this metaphor, the leaves are described as feathers. The writer appeals to our senses of sight, touch, and hearing. We see the shape of the leaves, pointed as feathers and having veins. We imagine the soft, fluttery touch of the leaves. We hear the soft sighing of the leaves. Thus, the metaphor is particularly effective because it evokes a complex response in the reader. At night our slamming voices Must seem loud.


This metaphor describes the voices as if they were doors, capable of slamming, and so making a loud, abrupt sound. The word, “slamming”, suggests a sharp and echoing banging noise. In the same way, the people’s voices create an intense noise in contrast with the quietness of the night. TASK 2 1.1 1.2 The minutes crept slowly by. (metaphor) The lion crept towards its prey. 16

2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2

The plane flies very high overhead. Whenever something goes wrong, the learner flies to tell the teacher. (metaphor) The little child loves to hammer on its drum. The Governing Body needs to hammer out the religious policy for the school. (metaphor) When her boyfriend left her, my sister was in floods of tears. (metaphor) In the Bible, we read about Noah who survived the flood that God sent.

TASK 3 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. I need this job as a stepping-stone to my bigger goal of running my own company. The sergeant-major’s iron command rang out over the parade ground. The teacher asked a difficult question, and was amazed at the forest of hands that went up immediately. The claw of the tree caught me as I ducked under the branch. This new experience is a door through which I am reluctant to go. Her depression is a cloud over the family. My school fellows put me on trial every time I say something they don’t agree with. Maths is a hurdle I think I shall fall over. Her eyes were in a glow of delight.

TASK 4 1.1 1.2 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 6.1 6.2 7.1 7.2 The farmer ploughs his fields with the oxen. I am ploughing my way through this long and difficult book. When the door clammed, I jumped. The teacher can’t make us jump through the hoops she sets. My mother poured iced tea for the guests. The miserable child poured out his heart to his friend. The man is fishing in the river. Stop fishing for news – I’m not going to tell you anything. The old man poked his finger into my chest. Stop poking your nose into other people’s business! The dog dragged the huge bone into the garden. The teacher drags the class along throughout the lesson. We can wade over to the other side of the river. Macbeth describes himself as wading through blood.


PERSONIFICATION Personification is a figure of speech where the writer talks about something that is not alive (plants, animals, or objects) as if it were a person (or sometimes an animal). We say this thing or animal is personified, e.g. The trees whispered. Examples: a. The grey-eyed Morn smiles on the frowning Night. Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

In this line, morning is personified as a person with grey eyes. This evokes the early morning light which is grey rather than yellow or gold. Night is described as a person who is frowning. When a person frowns, he or she looks angry or annoyed. Night is personified as disapproving while morning is seen as smiling. b. After such a dust storm, rain would follow, the lightning leaping from cliff to crag and sewing sound to fury with giant stitches of livid light. (William Plomer: "Down on the Farm") Lightning is described as a person - first of all, as a person who jumps from cliff to crag. The lightning is seen as a person full of energy and speed. Secondly, the lightning is described as a person sewing, using enormous stitches. Instead of these stitches joining pieces of material, the stitches join “sound to fury” (“fury” is violent or very strong anger). The stitches are not thread; they ate bright light. This vividly evokes the picture of shining bolts of lightning bursting out, accompanied by the violent noise of the thunder. c. The clouds frowned down upon him.

Once again, we have the idea of a person frowning. This makes us realise that the clouds are dark or black, which accords with the idea of anger or displeasure. d. The road twisted sullenly through the hills.

“Sullen” someone who is sullen is bad-tempered and does not speak much. The writer suggests that the road is not easy to follow and the twists make it difficult to drive along. This is a particularly effective use of personification. NOTE: 1. Some guides say that personification refers only to giving HUMAN qualities to abstract or inanimate (not alive) objects. These critics would say that giving animal qualities would be an example of metaphor.


2. 3.

Unusual capital letters may be a sign that the writer is using personification. Personification gives life and personality. The use of personification creates sympathy or antipathy (a strong feeling of dislike or hostility) as the reader is led to identify with the personified subject. Personification creates greater immediacy and often adds vitality. If personification is over-used, writing tends to become stylised and lifeless. So, BE CAREFUL when you use personification in your own writing. Personification may establish a link between man and nature. It identifies something non-human as part of the same life system as that which is alive. In this way, personification can make the non-human world seem more responsive and emotional than it really is. In the past, cars, ships and countries, among other things, were talked about as if they were women. People would say: She’s a fine boat. My car isn’t going well. There’s something wring with her engine. These days, this use of language is considered sexist, and is to be avoided. Use “it” for a ship or a car.

4. 5.


REVISION STEPS TO HELP YOU TACKLE A FIGURE OF SPEECH: 9. 10. 11. 12. Find the use of a figure of speech. Identify which figure of speech it is. Explain the figure of speech. Analyse the figure of speech.

Let’s do those steps using this example: The willow ran her fingers through the reeds. 13. 14. Find the use of a figure of speech. The willow ran her fingers through the reeds. Identify which figure of speech it is. The willow is personified. 15. Explain the figure of speech. The willow is described as a person. The willow’s branches hanging down into the reeds are seen as fingers sweeping through the reeds. 19


Analyse the figure of speech. The personification evokes the idea of the willow as a woman, peacefully running her fingers through the reeds as a woman might run her fingers through her hair. The personification helps the reader identify with the willow and creates a tranquil, calm atmosphere.

TASK Discuss the use of personification in “The land was freckled with snow”. Here is a whole poem which depends on personification for its effect: THE WIND James Stephens

The wind stood up and gave a shout; He whistled on his fingers, and Kicked the withered leaves about, And thumped the branches with his hand, And said he’d kill, and kill, and kill: And so he will! And so he will. In this poem, the wind is personified as a noisy and increasingly violent man. Look at the verbs the poet uses; they start with the action of the wind as it begins to blow, (“stood up”) and proceeds to the noises the wind makes (“gave (a shout), whistled”). In stanza 2, the poet outlines the powerful actions of the wind (“kicked, thumped”). Finally, the poet tells us that the wind threatens to “kill”. The use of personification makes the destructive power of the wind immediate and vivid. TO SUM UP: Personification is a kind of metaphor, where non-humans are talked about as if they were human or animal, and so alive. To analyse personification you must say: WHAT is being personified, HOW and WHY. SUGGESTED ANSWER TO THE TASK In this sentence, the land is personified. The land is described as a person with freckles on his or her face. Freckles are small spots created by the sun. The image suggests that the land has small patches of snow. The land is made more appealing by this means of personification.


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