Recently, on a school test, I was given a poem comprehension. One of the questions was :

What is the figure of speech in "...the trees start whispering among themselves? (A) Metaphor (B) Simile (C) Personification (D) Onomotopoeia

I ruled out Onomotopoeia and Simile but was confused between the other two. I told my teacher that it is Metaphor as the rustling of trees is indirectly compared to whispering but she said that it is Personification as trees are given a human quality. What should it be?

5 Answers 5


It is personification.

Simile and metaphor are both comparing X to Y, but in different ways.

A simile always uses "like" or "as": "The rustling of the branches was like trees whispering to each other."

A metaphor uses symbolism. It's something which can't be literal: "Their hissing gossip was the rustle of tree branches: indistinct, indecipherable, far above my head."

Personification (sometimes known as anthropomorphism) is ascribing human actions and/or motivations to non-human actors or objects: "The trees whispered." (Trees have no mouths or ears, so they can't whisper.)

Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like the sound it's describing: bark, boing, whoosh, hiss. [edited to fix ridiculous error]

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    @Yashbhatt I used the whispering trees to reflect your example. The road was a ribbon of moonlight is a metaphor. That's not personification, as neither roads, ribbons, or moonlight are human. Is that clearer? Dec 29, 2014 at 11:39
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    @Lauren Ipsum My teacher told me that personification is actually a subset of metaphor. Are you talking along the same lines? And I am not denying that it's personification. I am saying it is also a metaphor because we have used "..trees whisper" instead of "..trees rustle as if whispering".
    – Yashbhatt
    Dec 29, 2014 at 13:27
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    I think you're getting on the right track. Think 'most specific answer'. It could be a metaphor or personification, but as personification has a more specific definition, and part of that definition is 'A metaphor using human characteristics on a non-human subject'. It is kind of a bad question though.
    – Xander
    Dec 29, 2014 at 20:27
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    In the most literal definition, yes. As it happens personification isn't defined as a metaphor, partially because it is so universal and constant in our culture. Outside of writing, personification can have quite a few other meanings that aren't traditional metaphors. Greek, Roman , Norse gods are all personifications of elements and emotions. Thor and Mjolnir literally translate to Thunder and Lighting. You could claim that Thor is a metaphor for thunder, but it wouldn't explain the depth of the representation.
    – Xander
    Jan 1, 2015 at 19:33
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    Yes, and his answer was technically correct given the phrasing of the test. If the test wanted the "best" answer, it should have asked for it. // As it stands, we're assuming the test and the teacher must be correct, and bending our definitions to keep from contradicting them. // Our loyalties need to be with the language itself, not any given teacher or test of that language. Mar 5, 2019 at 20:35

Both "Personification" and "Metaphor" are correct answers. Personification happens to be the best answer because it's more specific, but it's actually a type of metaphor.

Everyone knows what a person is, but do you know what personification is? Personification is a type of metaphor and a common literary tool. It is when you assign the qualities of a person to something that isn't human or that isn't even alive, like nature or emotions.


This illustrates the problems of trying to shoehorn things like literary criticism into the format of standardized tests. If they had replaced "What is the figure of speech in..." with "What is the best description of the figure of speech in..." then "Personification" would have been less ambiguously correct.

As it stands, however, I would say you have excellent grounds for arguing your teacher should mark you as "technically" correct (assuming she's the kind of teacher who is open to being challenged).

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    ...and if you hadn't finished with that class 5 years ago... Mar 6, 2019 at 13:54
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    Haha I did! Thanks for the answer anyway. Makes it a lot clearer. Btw, I am still in touch with the teacher. Might show her this thread :-P. Also, looking at my own previous comments, I find that the teacher did mention that personification is a subset of metaphor.
    – Yashbhatt
    Mar 7, 2019 at 14:27

The trees have been turned into 'people' who start to whisper, which is personification.

Your example would be a metaphor if it were phrased as:

'the trees were a whispering among themselves (that began).'

i.e. one thing is the same as another. The trees are 'a whispering among themselves'.

A simile only says they're like/as each other. i.e.The trees were as a whispering among themselves (that began).'

(I changed 'started' to 'began' to make the sentence sound a little less clunky).


A simile is a simple, direct comparison between two things, such as "The snow is a white blanket" or "Life is a rollercoaster". A metaphor is a more indirect or complex comparison. For example, "The snow blanketed the hill, as if to keep the sleeping land warm" is a metaphor. The snow is again being compared to a blanket, and the land to some being that could sleep, arguably a form of personification. "The fog crept in on little cat feet" is both a metaphor and a personification. The fog's motion is being compared to that of a cat, and the fog itself is being represented as a living being, a cat. (Note that personification need not involve a human.)

"He dived from the board, his body a spear as it entered the water" is metaphor, and may or may not involve symbolism, depending on what connections the rest of the text may make between the diver and a spear.

"The trees start whispering among themselves" is a personification, but it also acts as a metaphor, comparing the sounds made by the trees, or perhaps by the wind, to whispers. Indeed most personifications are also metaphors. But since "personification" is more specific than "metaphor" it would be the correct answer in a class setting, most likely.


This is personification.

Personification is the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.

A tree cannot whisper, in fact trees cannot talk to each other unlike human beings. But here, they are personified as if they can.

Had it been a metaphor, it would have been an unstated comparison between two things.

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