Definition of Alliteration

Alliteration is a literary device that reflects repetition in two or more nearby words of initial consonant sounds. Alliteration does not refer to the repetition of consonant letters that begin words, but rather the repetition of the consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, the phrase “kids’ coats” is alliterative; though the words begin with different consonant letters, they produce the same consonant sounds. Similarly, the phrase “phony people” is not alliterative; though both words begin with the same consonant, the initial consonant sounds are different. In addition, for alliteration to be effective, alliterative words should flow in quick succession. If there are too many non-alliterative words in between, then the literary device is not purposeful.

For example, alliterative “tongue twisters” are useful for encouraging language learners, generally children, to hear similar sounds repeated at the beginning of several words. A well-known alliterative tongue twister is: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. However, though alliterative tongue twisters are associated with children, they are useful for practicing and improving pronunciation, fluency, and articulation. They are often utilized by actors, politicians, and public speakers for verbal exercises in clarity of speaking.

Common Examples of Alliteration in Everyday Speech

People use alliterative phrases frequently in everyday conversation. These phrases can sometimes sound cliché; however, they are effective in expressing both broad and familiar meanings. Here are some examples of alliteration in everyday speech:

  • rocky road
  • big business
  • kissing cousins
  • jumping jacks
  • no nonsense
  • tough talk
  • quick question
  • money matters
  • picture perfect
  • high heaven

Examples of Alliteration in Popular Culture

Alliteration is a common approach for advertising, marketing, and other elements of popular culture in that the repetition of initial letter sounds can be attention-grabbing and memorable for consumers, viewers, etc. Here are some familiar examples of alliteration in popular culture:

  • Coca Cola
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Polly Pocket
  • Tonka Trucks
  • Weight Watchers
  • Rainbow Room
  • Dippin’ Dots
  • Fantastic Four
  • Hip Hop
  • Paw Patrol
  • Door Dash
  • House Hunters

Famous Examples of Alliteration in Fictional Character Names

Many artists and writers also utilize alliteration for fictional character names. This literary device allows for the creation of memorable as well as fun-sounding names, particularly in terms of children’s entertainment or literature. Here are some examples of alliteration in fictional character names:

  • Lois Lane
  • Peter Parker
  • Wonder Woman
  • Miss Muffet
  • Bob the Builder
  • Wicked Witch of the West
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Bugs Bunny
  • Daffy Duck
  • Donald Duck
  • Daisy Duck
  • Pig Pen
  • Beetle Bailey
  • Peppa Pig
  • Holly Hobbie
  • Kris Kringle
  • Shaun the Sheep
  • Phineas and Ferb
  • Buster Baxter

Difference Between Alliteration, Consonance, and Assonance

Alliteration, consonance, and assonance are all literary devices that are utilized as a means of creating emphasis, attention, significance, and importance to words in poetry, prose, or speech. These literary devices can be used for both artistic and rhetorical effects. Alliteration almost exclusively refers to the repetition of initial consonant sounds across the start of several words in a line of text.

The repetition of vowel sounds is generally excluded from alliteration and categorized instead as assonance. Assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds, whether at the beginning, middle, or end, of words in close proximity to each other in a line of text. Consonance, of which alliteration is considered a subcategory, is the repetition of consonant sounds in successive words. Like assonance, consonance refers to the repetition of these sounds at the beginning, middle, or end of words. However, alliteration is limited to consonant sounds repeated at the beginning of words.

Although alliteration and consonance have the same consonant repetitions, the repetition in alliteration occurs as mentioned above. On the other hand, a consonance does not necessarily have the same initial sounds as the neighboring words. The sounds in a consonance could occur even in the words used in the same verse but at different ends. For example, a babbling baby is an alliteration as well as a consonance. However, a consonance does not need to be an alliteration such as “the baby that does not babble” is a consonance. In both cases, the sound of /b/ makes the difference. In the first example, it occurs in the two neighboring words as the initial sound, while in the consonance, the words are far away from each other.

Purpose of Alliteration

Poets use different poetic devices to make their verses melodious. Alliterations are often used to sync the words with the metrical patterns to create rhythm and melody in the poem. Alike sounds create a unique stress pattern that suits the themes. Therefore, the major purpose of the poets in using alliterations is to make their poetic output melodious, flowery, interesting, and musical.

Effects of Alliteration

Alliteration creates a flow and music in the verses. When sounds are similar, they seem soothing to the ears and facilitate reading. This reading of metrical patterns with such constantly occurring sounds makes the poetry reading a treat. Sometimes, they create an impact of having intoxicating and relaxing feelings in the readers as well as the listeners.

Using Alliteration in Sentences

  1. I was scared of Justin’s jokes. He’s not funny and loves to prank.
  2. Ida brought fancy flowers to Molly’s birthday party.
  3. When things go bad don’t stop but be bold and go forward, one step at a time.
  4. I feel like making melodies in my heart.
  5. Do dare to redefine your life with style.

Examples of Alliteration in Literature

Alliteration is a useful device in literary works. The repetition of initial consonant sounds can have a pleasing effect for readers and listeners. In addition, it calls attention to the rhetorical and artistic impact of the words in that alliteration signifies that the alliterative words are linked purposefully and thematically. This allows writers to turn the focus of their audience on the subject presented.

Here are some examples of alliteration in literature:

Example 1: The Raven (Edgar Allan Poe)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

In this first stanza of his well known poem, Poe utilizes alliteration to build a poetic mood. The poet begins his descriptive alliteration with “weak and weary” as well as “nodded, nearly napping” to establish a somnambulate atmosphere. The repetition of these sounds enhances their poetic effect, emphasizing the disillusioned and heartbroken subject of the poem and the thematic intention of the poet. As a result, the sudden “tapping” at the door is both a surprise to the poet and reader.

Poe’s use of alliteration in the first few stanzas continues throughout the entire poem. The presence of this literary device within the poetic lines reinforces the raven’s repetitious answer to the poet, “nevermore,” and underscores the escalating mood of fear, desperation, and frustration felt by the poet. This creates a similar effect for readers as they share in the poem’s mood and the  poet’s emotions and experience.

Example 2: Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

In the prologue of his tragic work, Shakespeare utilizes alliterative wording like “fatal” and “foes” as a means of foreshadowing the events of the play. This alliteration also calls attention to certain pairings of words in the prologue to emphasize the themes of “Romeo and Juliet.” For example, “fatal” is associated with “foes,” “lovers” with “life,” and “doth” with “death.” These alliterative pairs reflect the pairing of characters in the tragedy, through love and conflict, including the feuding Capulet and Montague families, the romance between Romeo and Juliet, and even the cousins Tybalt and Benvolio.

Therefore, the use of alliteration as a literary device in the prologue helps to create a sense of balance between the opposing forces of and within the overall play. In addition, the alliterative phrasing, most notably in the first line of this excerpt, provides melody and rhythm to the verse, indicating to the reader how the words may sound if spoken aloud or performed. This enhances Shakespeare’s intended thematic effects of discord and harmony for the reader.

Example 3: To an Athlete Dying Young (A.E. Housman)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

In this poem, Housman creates what may be considered a “preemptive” elegy to an athlete who is dying. In each stanza, the poet incorporates alliteration as a literary device to emphasize the intention of the poem. In addition, the alliterative wording reflects the poet’s use of artistic expression as a means of elegizing the athlete. For example, the lines “Eyes the shady night has shut / Cannot see the record cut” each feature alliteration that underscores the theme of the poem. Once the athlete has died, indicated by the euphemistic phrase “his eyes are shut by the shady night,” he won’t have lived to see his legacy undone; upon his death, the athlete “cannot see” his record “cut,” as in broken or surpassed by someone else.

Housman’s use of alliteration also mirrors the power of the athlete. For example, the poet uses alliterative phrases such as “fleet foot” and “the road all runners come” to indicate that the athlete, in a sense, has won a race against time. Rather than outliving his renown among the living, the poet suggests that the athlete will be renowned among the dead as they flock to see his laurel. This creates a sense of irony in the poem in that the poet appears to appreciate the athlete dying young and triumphant instead of lamenting the early loss of someone young and strong.

Example 4: Alone by Maya Angelou

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are two very good alliterations. The first is the occurrence of the sound of /r/ that is in the third line “run round” and second is the sound of /n/ in “No, nobody.” Besides these, all other such consonant sounds are just consonances as they do not occur in the beginning and that they are not close to each other. The impact of these alliterations is a sort of melody that continues in the next lines.

Example 5: Autumn Song by W. H. Auden

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last,
Nurses to their graves are gone,
But the prams go rolling on.

These lines occur in the poem of W. H. Auden’s “Autumn Song.” They show the use of alliteration such as the sound of /f/ occurs in the initials of “falling fast” and the second is “graves are gone” where /g/ sound repeats in two words interjected with a helping verb. In both cases, the sounds make both of these lines melodious, musical, and rhythmic.

Example 6: Flying at Night by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.

These lines occur in the poem of Ted Kooser, “Flying at Night. There are two beautiful alliterations. The first is the sound of “farmer, feeling” and the second is “distant death.” As there is no other word in between the words, both the sounds of /f/ and /d/ create a unique melody in the entire stanza.

Example 7: Beowulf

  1. He knew what they had tholed,
    the long times and troubles they’d come through
    without a leader; so the Lord of Life,
    the glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.

  2. And then his heir,
    the great Halfdane, held sway
    for as long as he lived, their elder and warlord.
    He was four times a father, this fighter prince:

  3. And soon it stood there,
    finished and ready, in full view,
    the hall of halls. Heorot was the name
    he had settled on it, whose utterance was law.

  4. He set the sun and the moon
    to be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men,
    and filled the broad lap of the world
    with branches and leaves; and quickened life
    in every other thing that moved.

There are plenty of alliterations in Beowulf. These lines occur in Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. They have been taken from different episodes. There are several alliterations such as “times and troubles”, “Lord of Life”, “man this made”, “father, this fighter”, “hall of halls”, “he had”, “set the sun”, lamplight, lanterns” and “thing that.” The repetition of different alliterative sounds has made this poem melodious as well as rhythmic.

Synonyms of Alliteration

Although as Alliteration a device has no synonyms with the same meanings or same sense, some words such as initial rhyme, beginning rhyme, dingdong, jingle-jangle, crambo, head-rhyme, and repetitiousness seems to be extended synonyms for it.

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