Inanimate Object and Expressive Writing

The English language, the language of Shakespeare, can be very expressive and flexible in communicating thoughts and ideas. For instance, we might write or say something like: “that guitar has been lounging in my living-room corner since Bush was president.” Most of us may understand what that sentence conveys, but some might also ask ourselves if a guitar can lounge. What exactly do we have here? Let’s talk about that.

What Does Inanimate Object Mean?

An inanimate object is a thing that isn’t living or something that doesn’t move on its own, like a rock, a pencil, or a T.V. (or a guitar). With language, we can bring an inanimate object to life through personification.

Personification is the attribution of character or human nature to something inanimate, nonhuman, or abstract. It is the device that lets us assign a human action (lounging) to an inanimate object (guitar).

In addition to that, we might hear personification of an inanimate object expressed in ways like:

“I think my shoes walked away when I wasn’t looking.”

“The falling feather etched a graceful script in the air with its descent.”

“The dandelions danced with enchantment across the barren field.”

In all of these sentences, we are giving human characteristics to an inanimate object.

Maybe with a bit less creative license, we also commonly personify inanimate objects with statements like: “the river runs southwest and the staircase rises to the fourth level.”

A graphic explaining inanimate object personification

Inanimate Objects: What Are Personifications Limits?

Oftentimes a question can arise about the liberty taken in a sentence, like:

“Maria’s promotion has often been encouraged by her district manager.”

While many of us might understand what is being expressed, those highly attuned to precision might dispute whether a promotion, which is an inanimate concept, can in fact be encouraged. If a promotion is not conscious and aware, would it respond to a person’s motivation?

Logic could argue “no” (personification!). People who see language as creatively flexible could argue “yes”.

Another instance might be:

“that plate was inspired by 19th-century Spanish art.”

Can a dish be inspired—by a second inanimate object?

You might have noted that both examples are in the passive voice. So now let’s put them in the active voice and see if that makes a difference:

“Maria’s manager has often encouraged her promotion.”

“Nineteenth-century Spanish art inspired that plate.”

The first sentence shows, we now have a person performing the human action, but the inanimate concept still receives it. The second sentence shows that we still have an inanimate object acting in a human way upon another inanimate object.

If you’re ever unsure about whether something you’ve personified can be read with a proper suspension of doubt, try modifying some of the sentence elements:

“Maria’s manager has often encouraged her to be promoted.”

The plate’s creator found inspiration for it by looking at 19th-century Spanish art.

Inanimate Objects with Whose

Another question that can arise with inanimate objects is whether they can be used together with the pronoun whose. For some of us, a sentence like the following may be awkward:

“I love to play that cello, whose strings always fancy the whims of my imagining fingers.”

Some might pause at a sentence like that because they think of whose as a possessive pronoun for an animate object (people and animals) only:

“I am going to visit Jose, whose cello always fancies the whims of my imaginative fingers.”

“There’s the dog whose gait is so impressive.”

By its definition, whose is the possessive form of both which and who. That means it can refer to both animate and inanimate objects.

Quiz

Identify any examples of personification of an inanimate object in the following – 

  1. Are you really trying to tell me that the paper just ran off?
  2. This cage is the right size for the cat.
  3. The rain outside my window spoke to me through the night.
  4. That designer dress hugs you in all the right spots.
  5. This permanent marker has no ink.

 

Quiz Answers

  1. Are you really trying to tell me that paper just ran off?
  2. This cage is the right size for the cat. no personification
  3. The rain outside my window spoke to me through the night.
  4. That dress hugs you in all the right places.
  5. This permanent marker has no ink. no personification

If you want to further test yourself, take our other proofreading quizzes! 

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