When she sang she could make a fence post cry.

I received this answer from a reliable source that the whole thing’s a metaphor, last part is anthropomorphizing (the fence crying).

  • Is the term 'complex sentence' what you're looking for?
    – BillJ
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:34
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    Presumably the question mark is not part of the example sentence. This is a complex sentence, because it has a subordinate clause When she sang preposed to the beginning of the sentence, and the matrix verb make has an idiomatic infinitive complement clause (for) a fence post (to) cry with deleted for...to complementizer. The idiomatic treatment of the complementizer is licensed by the verb make, which has its own syntactic rules. That's a lot of grammatical terms, but we weren't sure what you were asking about. Note, this has nothing to do with meaning; that's not grammatical. Jan 14, 2019 at 19:48
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    Traditional grammar calls it a 'complex' because it is a main clause with at least one embedded subordinate clause. There are three subordinate clauses in all: "she sang", which is complement of the preposition "when", "make a fence post cry", which is complement of "could", and "cry" which is complement of "make".
    – BillJ
    Jan 14, 2019 at 19:54
  • @JohnLawler As ever, John, you have provided a consummate answer as regards the grammar. But I am just wondering if the OP was wondering what figure of speech such a remark constituted. I suppose the answer is hyperbole.
    – WS2
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:38
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    Well, it might be hyperbole. Or maybe a parable. Or ellipsis. Or circular reasoning. Something suitably iconic. Jan 15, 2019 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


There are a few rhetorical devices going on.

The last part is indeed a kind of personification, or attributing a human quality (crying) to a nonhuman entity. This serves a larger metaphor: a fence post, which theoretically can't cry, nonetheless being moved to tears is the vehicle for conveying how moving her singing is (the tenor). With her singing, she could move even someone who usually does not express emotion. Another way to describe how this metaphor works is hyperbole: an immovable object being emotionally moved is an exaggeration compared to a stoic person being moved.

Why is a pathetic fallacy not involved? Traditionally, a pathetic fallacy refers to natural objects or phenomena: clouds, lightning, leaves, and rocks. A fence post is not natural. It also emphasizes how the perspective of a poet or artist is impressed upon these objects. I find that difficult to argue for in your example.

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