Alliteration is a commonly used style of figurative language that most people don’t even realize they are using. The word “alliteration” comes from the Latin word latira, which means “letters of the alphabet.” This may be because alliteration deals directly with the letters that comprise a phrase, and the sounds the words make, instead of the words themselves. It is characterized by a number of words, typically three or more, that have the same first consonant sound within the same sentence or phrase.
Alliteration is typically used to create flow, and to create onomatopoeia when someone is reading aloud, which is why it is often found in poetry and song lyrics. For example:
“Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers.”
This sentence is alliterative because the “p” sound occurs repeatedly at the beginning of six words. That sound, while making the sentence difficult to say, also creates a puckering effect on the reader’s mouth, much like one would have after eating pickles.
Not all sentences with alliteration have a deeper meaning like that one. Sometimes it can even be accidental. Note that words don’t have to start with the same letters to have alliteration, it is all about the sound of the word.
List of Alliteration Examples in Lyrics
Alliteration is often found in song lyrics, as it lends to the flow of the song and helps the artist remember the lyrics. Here are just a few examples from popular songs:
Example #1: Let it Be (By The Beatles)
“Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
The three Ws repeated at the start of the lyrics add to the tone of the overall song. They act to set up those all-important words of wisdom that lend to the song’s title.
Example #2: Human Nature (By Michael Jackson)
“Hear Her Voice
Shake My Window
Sweet Seducing Sighs”
The “s” sound that comes from “sweet,” “seducing,” and “sighs” – one following the other – creates a hushing sound that also forms alliteration. This alliteration does give deeper meaning to the lyrics, as the song is about forbidden love. Note that “shake” is NOT included in the alliteration because, although it begins with an “s”, it does not make the same sound.
Example #3: Big Yellow Taxi (By Joni Mitchell)
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
The repeated “p” sound in “paved,” “paradise,” “put,” and “parking” is alliterative – both on paper, and when listening to the song. However, listening to the song aloud provides a deeper meaning to the alliteration: the hard “p” sound makes it sound like she is spitting and angry at those who took away paradise.
Example #4: Bad Blood (By Taylor Swift)
“And, baby, now we’ve got bad blood”
Taylor Swift is a masterful lyricist, and her words are often full of double meanings and hidden clues. In Bad Blood, Taylor tells the story of a friendship gone wrong. The “b” sound in “baby,” “bad,” and “blood,” add to the quality of the song. The “b” sound is nowhere near as flowery as her other lyrics, and one can really hear the pain and anger she feels.
Example #5: So Sick (By Ne-Yo)
“Said I’m so sick of love songs, so sad and slow”
Listening to popular music, it is easy to tell that the “s” sound is popular amongst songwriters. In So Sick, Ne-Yo starts more words with that sound than any other sound. This goes well with Ne-Yo’s singing style, as it allows him to seamlessly glide through the words.
Example #6: Far Away (By Nickelback)
“This time, This place
Too long, Too late”
In just three lines of Nickelback’s song, there are three instances of alliteration, two of which also double as repetition. The “th” sound in “this,” along with the hard “t” in “too,” bookend the chorus, allowing for a certain emphasis to be put on those sounds. The “m” sound in “misused” and “mistakes” makes the middle almost haunting. Together, they create one of the most memorable choruses in recent history.
Example #7: Drops of Jupiter (By Train)
“Can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance, five-hour phone conversation?”
The alliteration of the “f” sound in Drops of Jupiter allows the lyrics to come quickly from the lead singer’s tongue. The song is packed with emotional lyrics, and the sound in “first,” “freeze,” and “five,” move this line along. As a bonus, there is also some internal rhyme with “dance” and “romance.”
Example #8: Knock You Down (By Keri Hilson)
“So what we gonna have, dessert or disaster?”
The alliteration of the “d” sound in “dessert” and “disaster” connects the two words together, making Hilson’s question even more tempting. The other alliteration is the “w” sound in “what” and “we,” which connects those as well. Notice that if you take only those four words, you still get the basic gist of the song: “What (are) we, dessert (or) disaster.”
Alliteration is everywhere. You won’t be able to drive down the street with the radio playing and not hear it in nearly every song. Many songs only use two words with alliteration, but some have extended alliteration like the ones mentioned above. Be on the lookout – alliteration is everywhere!