Anthropomorphisms: When Not to Use Them

There is a really big word that students should know, but may not.  That word is anthropomorphic.  Technically it means to give human form or attributes to something that is not human. It is popularly used in children’s books.  However, doctoral students often have their dissertations rejected for including anthropomorphisms

Anthropomorphism of a mailbox.

Here are some examples of what an anthropomorphism looks like:

  • The study assumed that people would not be interested.
  • The computer program thinks that the results are accurate.

Both of these sentences should not be used.  The reason is that a person can “assume” but a study cannot. Animate nouns are things like a person, a researcher or a participant.  Animate nouns can make an assumption.  An inanimate noun, like a research study, cannot.  Just like an animate noun, a researcher can “think”, but an inanimate noun, a computer, cannot. 

To put it more simply, think of it this way:

  • Person, Researcher, Participant = assume and think
  • Study, Computer, Inanimate Object ≠ assume and think
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