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 the similar sound 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 meaning. 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 effect. 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.

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.

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