Anthropomorphism assigns human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects in a way that makes them appear human. It is often confused with personification, but the two literary devices are very different. While anthropomorphism allows a character to move, think, act, speak, and feel like a human, personification uses figurative language to attribute human-like characteristics to objects, ideas, or concepts. While the difference can be somewhat confusing, the two are actually quite easy to distinguish from each other.

What is Anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism is a literary device that assigns human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. Unlike anthropomorphism, personification uses figurative language to give human characteristics to inanimate objects and phenomena. in which human characteristics are attributed to non-human entities, such as animals, plants, and objects. With personification, this attribution is done in a metaphysical or representative way. In contrast, anthropomorphism enables the inanimate object or animal to physically take on these traits and act as a human would.


Personification – “The wind howled like a beast.”

Anthropomorphism – “I can’t hear a thing over the noise in the other room,” said the rabbit as he continued to prepare dinner.

Note how in the personification example a simile is used to compare the wind to a beast. In the anthropomorphic example, the rabbit is speaking and acting as a human.

How to pronounce Anthropomorphism ?

Anthropomorphism is pronounced “an·thruh·puh·mor·fi·zm” from the Greek words for “human,” “ánthrōpos” and “form,” morphē.

When do writers use Anthropomorphism?

Early writers and storytellers used anthropomorphism because it helped people to make sense of the world and their surroundings. By assigning human attributes to animals and inanimate objects, early people were able to understand complex ideas and entities such as gods, deities, and religion. By making these ideas and concepts easily understood, it became easier for early people to relate to them.

Modern writers use anthropomorphism for many of the same reasons. This technique is especially common in children’s literature. Anthropomorphism makes the ideas and concepts addressed in these stories relatable to children and easier for them to understand.

How to use Anthropomorphism?

As with any useful tool, there are always instructions or guidelines on how to use and master it. Anthropomorphism is no different. When you want to use this technique in your writing, consider these useful tips:

  • Think about animals or objects that interest you.
  • Reflect on visual traits or behavior. If you’ve chosen an animal, ask yourself what emotional qualities it exhibits and build on them.
  • Combine elements. Remember that anthropomorphism combines real traits of the animal or object with human-like characteristics.
  • Continue to observe the world around you.

Once you’ve identified your task, remember anthropomorphism is easy to master, even for a novice.

Anthropomorphism in Literature and Poetry 📚

Many great authors incorporate anthropomorphism into their writing. It makes it easier to understand difficult ideas. Due to this fact, many of literature’s most significant works incorporate anthropomorphism into the text in a major way.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals on the farm are animals who represent various Russian leaders. Orwell uses anthropomorphism to give them human characteristics such as speech, critical thinking, the ability to hold meetings, and greed so that they may act as humans do.

In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift depicts the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses, as human-like. He gives them the power of speech, human emotion, and human behaviors.

And if Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, continues to act, think, and speak as a human after his metamorphosis into a giant cockroach.

When considering poetry, personification is most often used over anthropomorphism. Perhaps this is due to the average length of a poem (not including epic poems), which is rather short in comparison to most literary works. However, one notable use of anthropomorphism sticks out.

In “The Raven,” Edgar Allen Poe gives the power of human speech to his late-night visitor. He writes,

“ But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.” Then the bird said ‘Nevermore.’”

Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature 🧸

As previously noted, children’s literature is a treasure trove of anthropomorphic writings.

While most of us only think of the Disney film when commenting on Beauty and the Beast, the reality was originally written by French novelist, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Before hitting the big screen, de Villeneuve anthropomorphized not only the Beast but also every inanimate object and animal in Beauty and the Beast by giving the ability to speak, think, dance, sing, and feel emotion.

Another great example is Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. In this children’s classic, the cast is comprised of anthropomorphic animals, including the titular bear, Winnie the Pooh.

Similar to Winnie the Pooh, TheTale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter also features a cast of anthropomorphic animals, including the mischievous rabbit himself, Peter.

Anthropomorphism in Film and Pop Culture 🎥

As we begin to examine anthropomorphism in film, the fun really begins. This is because through visuals, the viewer can see the anthropomorphized characters jump off of the page and really come to life.

To start, let’s look at the prison break scene from Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).

Notice how you Rocket thinks, moves, acts, and speaks like a human? That’s true anthropomorphism is action.

Another great example is Ratatouille (2007). In this film, each rat is given a distinct personality and the ability to talk and interact with humans. The same is also true of the fish in Finding Nemo (2003).

While we could spend days examining all of the anthropomorphic examples in Disney, we will instead conclude this section with a true classic, the animated version of Beauty and the Beast (1991).

Anthropomorphism in Advertising 📺

Much like children’s literature and film, advertising campaigns are also full of anthropomorphism.

The Geico Gecko compilation:

And also, these little gems:

  • The Energizer Bunny
  • The Kool-Aid Man
  • The Pillsbury Doughboy
  • The M&M’s Characters
  • The Taco Bell Chihuahua
  • The AFLAC Duck
  • The Michelin Man
  • The Charmin Bears

Often Mistaken For . . . 👥

While similar, personification and anthropomorphism are two entirely separate literary devices. Unlike anthropomorphism, personification is the attribution of human or human-like characteristics to a non-human object, idea, or concept. Personification uses figurative language to attribute these characteristics in a non-physical way. In contrast, anthropomorphism physically gives these characteristics to the animal or object anthropomorphized.

Example of personification – “The wind howled like the beast.”Example of anthropomorphism – “I can’t hear a thing over the noise in the other room,” said the rabbit as he continued to prepare dinner.