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Embody means to represent (a quality) in bodily or material form

Personify means to be the perfect example of a person who has (a quality)

My tutor said she felt they can be used interchangeably in the following six sentences.

  1. These children personify/embody all that is wrong with the education system.
  2. Carter personifies/embodies the values of self-reliance and hard work.
  3. He is a leader who embodies/personifies courage.
  4. She embodies/personifies the principles.
  5. That politician embodies/personifies the hopes of black youth.
  6. As John Adams embodies/personifies the old style, Andrew Jackson embodies/personifies the new.

But she said it’s her personal bias that it’s weird to use “personify” in the 7th sentence, but couldn’t explain why.

7. She embodies/personifies everything I admire in a teacher.

Is this true and why?

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I do not think that this is wrong. I think that your tutor says this because it is strange to personify something that is already a person, like a teacher. Even though you are technically saying that she personifies everything I admire in a teacher, the verb "to personify" specifically implies making something that is not human, like a certain quality or idea, into human form.

That being said, I see nothing wrong with the way you used personify in sentence 7. Everything I admire in a teacher is abstract enough that you can use either personify or embody. However, as an example, it would be wrong to say, she personifies a good teacher. It would be correct to say, she embodies a good teacher.

In short, to personify is for someone to represent something abstract and nonhuman, while to embody is for someone to represent anything at all. They greatly overlap in definition, but they are not quite the same.

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  • Thanks for clarification. I thought to embody is for someone to represent Things, so it's better to say "she embodies the valuable traits of a good teacher" than "she embodies a good teacher", unless "a good teacher" is used metephorically.
    – joy2020
    Mar 18 '21 at 1:31

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