What literary term means the following: An inanimate object given animate characteristics, like a talking dog or a couch full of love.


There are two different literary terms that could describe an inanimate object being given animate characteristics. If a fictional dog was actually talking, this would be an example of anthropomorphism because the dog has taken on the human characteristic of speech. If we aren’t being literal (for example, if this fictional couch didn't actually have the ability to love), "couch full of love" would be personification.

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rb1384's profile pic

rb1384 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

I think you're comparing apples with oranges here :-)

A talking dog would be an example of anthropomorphism. If you break it down - anthro = man or human and morph = shape - the author is giving human characteristics to something that isn't human.

 "...couch full of love..." is an example of a metaphor, the most common kind of literary comparison.

In Zora Neale Hurston's "The Gilded Six Bits" she writes, "The hours went by on their rusty ankles." She is comparing two dissimilar things (hours don't have ankles...they probably don't even have toes) to create the effect of time passing very slowly. This metaphor is particularly rich because she is writing about an African American community that would be within a generation or two of emancipation.

For future reference on this kind of question, I would highly recommend either the enotes literary terms section or the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) for definitions and usage.

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brendawm | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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The term you are looking for is personification, which means the giving of physical or human characteristics to ideas, thoughts or inanimate objects. Wonderful beginner examples of personification can be found in William Wordsworth's poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud".  I listed some examples for you.

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud 

That floats on high o'er vales and hills, 

When all at once I saw a crowd,   

A host, of golden daffodils;   

Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.Ten thousand (daisies) saw I at a glance,Tossing their heads in spritely dance.The waves beside them danced. ....And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils. 
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bmadnick | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

You could be talking about personification. This is where nonhuman objects or animals are given human qualities. A "talking dog" is given the human quality of speech, and "a couch full of love" is given the human ability to love.

Another term that you might be referring to is anthropomorphism. This is when human motivation, characteristics, or behavior are given to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

Here is a video about personification:

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npdckrsn | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

The answers you have been given are pretty good, but one of my professors once said that we are much given to "pathetic fallacy" by placing emotional characteristics upon inanimate objects. In A Handbook to Literature we are told that the term was coined by Ruskin to denote the tendency of man to credit NATURE with the emotions of human beings. I believe this is the term you will want to use in the examples you have given.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Just because someone, however distinguished, calls something a "fallacy" does not necessarily make it a fallacy or prohibit writers from using it. I see nothing wrong in ascribing human feelings to things in nature--so long as the writer is sincere about it. In fact, some of these kinds of metaphors and similes are beautiful and memorable. 

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parama9000 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Personification should apply in your case, where inanimate or non-living objects are given human-like characteristics.

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maria-vivanco | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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When you give a non inanimate object animate characteristics like a person it's called personification. You are making the inanimate thing come to life 

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jess1999 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The literary term that you are referring to would be personification. Personification is when something nonhuman is given a human characteristics / personality. For example, the talking dog is an example of personification because dogs don't talk like we humans do. The couch full of love is an example of personification because couch don't give love unlike us human.

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zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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That is personification. Personification is used when you want to make an inanimate or object that normally would not complete those actions complete them. For example, the wind whistled in the night. That is personification because the wind did not literally whistle. 

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vnessawong21 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

The literary term you are looking for is personification. Personification is where inanimate objects are given the qualities and traits of animate or living objects. This literary term is powerful because of its ability to paint powerful visual images inside of the reader's mind. Instead of simply describing a tree as a tree, with the use of personification the tree can be described as: a tree dancing in the wind.