Consonance

Definition of Consonance

Consonance is a literary device that refers to the repetition of the same consonant sounds in a line of text. The focus, in the use of consonance, is on the sound made by consonants and not necessarily the letters themselves. In addition, alike consonant sounds can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of words, and consonance is created when these words appear in quick succession.

Consonance is frequently used as a poetic device. This allows poets to arrange words in an interesting way that can intensify artistic language and appeal to readers and listeners. For example, Edgar Allan Poe effectively utilizes consonance in his poemThe Raven.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
Consonance is featured throughout this stanza; however, it is utilized heavily in the fifth line with “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt.” This repetition of the hard “g” sound calls attention to the words used to describe the raven and results in the reader pausing over this string of adjectives to understand the image they portray and its meaning.

Common Examples of Consonance in Everyday Speech

People often use phrases with consonance in everyday conversation. These phrases may sometimes sound cliché, yet they are effective in expressing familiar meanings. In addition, repetitive sounds in paired words are often appealing to both speakers and listeners. Here are some common examples of consonance in everyday speech:

  • fuddy duddy
  • it’s a matter of time
  • pitter patter
  • odds and ends
  • best bet
  • tea and toast
  • lily livered
  • better late than never
  • twist tie
  • jump through a hoop
  • a little later
  • front and center

Examples of Consonance in “Tongue Twisters”

“Tongue twisters” are sequences of words or sounds that feature consonance (and alliteration), which makes them difficult to say correctly or quickly. They are often used to encourage language learners and are considered fun for children to hear the similar sound repeated in different words. Tongue twisters are also useful for practicing and enhancing articulation, pronunciation, and fluency. Many professional speakers utilize them for verbal exercises.

Here are some examples of consonance in tongue twisters:

  • Betty Botter bought some butter
    But she said the butter’s bitter
    If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter
    But a bit of better butter will make my batter better
    So ‘twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter
  • If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
    Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • Rubber baby buggy bumpers
  • A really leery Larry rolls readily to the road
  • She sells seashells on the seashore.
    The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
    And if she sells seashells on the seashore,
    Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
  • Betty’s big bunny bobbled by the blueberry bush
  • Cooks cook cupcakes quickly

Famous Examples of Consonance in Fictional Character Names

Many fictional characters have names that feature consonance. This repetition of consonant sounds can make their names memorable for readers, or even enhance the humor or fantastical nature of their character. Here are some famous examples of consonance in fictional character names:

  • Bilbo Baggins
  • Lisa Simpson
  • Dick Dastardly
  • Holly Hollister
  • Cosmo Kramer
  • Philip Marlowe
  • George Jetson
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Severus Snape
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Foghorn Leghorn
  • Lucille Bluth
  • Holly Golightly
  • Dread Pirate Roberts
  • Yosemite Sam

Difference Between Consonance, Alliteration, and Assonance

Consonance, alliteration, and assonance are all literary devices that utilize sound as a means of enhancing the emphasis, attention, significance, and importance of words. This creates both artistic and/or rhetorical effect in works of poetry, prose, or speech. Consonance refers to the repetition of consonant sounds in successive words, whether these sounds are placed at the word’s beginning, middle, or end.

Alliteration is a subcategory of consonance in that this device almost exclusively refers to the repetition of initial consonant sounds. Alliteration is used to begin the start of several words in a line of text with the same consonant sound. Assonance is similar to consonance in that the sounds can be repeated at the beginning, middle, or end of words in close proximity to each other. However, assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds, not consonants.

Examples of Consonance in Literature

Consonance is a useful literary device, particularly in poetry. The repetition of consonant sounds can produce a dramatic auditory effect for readers and listeners. Consonance also calls attention to the impact of words in a rhetorical and artistic sense by signifying a writer’s purposeful and thematic combination of words. This enables writers to call the attention and focus of their audience to the subject of the literary work.

Here are some examples of consonance in literature:

Example 1: Sonnet 64 – When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d (William Shakespeare)

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

In this sonnet, Shakespeare incorporates consonance in nearly every line. This is an effective poetic device in that the sounds of the words enhance the emotion and imagery of the overall poem. For example, line eleven features consonance in the words “ruin” and “ruminate,” which heighten the emotional impact for the reader. The idea that the poet has been taught by “ruin” to reflect on his love and fear may cause the reader to identify with these feelings and “ruminate” as well.

In addition, the repetition and combination of the “th” and “s” sounds in line 13 evoke an image of solemnity and whispering, which reinforces the context of death and decay as described in the poem. In turn, the poet’s use of consonance as a literary device is symbolic of the repetitious thoughts of the poet that “Time” will cause his love (and beloved) to wear away and disappear. This repetitive thought process of fearing the loss of his love is an entrapment for the poet that appears to limit any joy or solace that his love might bring to him. The combined effect of consonance and idea repetition for the reader, therefore, is a deeper understanding and sympathy for the poet’s repetitive thoughts and feelings.

Example 2: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (T.S. Eliot)

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
In his poem, Eliot utilizes consonance to achieve a musical quality for his poetic language as well as to create memorable imagery and meaning. Specifically, the poet’s repetition of consonant sounds in the final stanza with words such as “waves,” “water,” “white,” and “wind,” enhances the poet’s musical and artistic use of language as well as reinforces the image of the sea and mermaids singing.
Ironically, Eliot’s use of consonance in the single line before the last stanza gives the poem deeper meaning. The repetition of “th” sound in “think that they” creates a sense of stuttering for the reader–a sound that is in opposition to singing. The consonance in this line undermines the musicality of the final stanza and the image of mermaids singing. However, it reinforces and gives greater meaning to the idea that the poet believes the mermaids will not sing to him.

Example 3: Not Waving but Drowning (Stevie Smith)

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

In her poem, Smith utilizes consonance in more than one way for poetic effect. For example, the use of consonance at the end of the words “moaning” and “drowning” form an “imperfect” rhyme. This still produces a rhyming effect for the reader, yet it allows the poet to incorporate words with purposeful meaning to the overall poem rather than limiting the choice of words to those that rhyme perfectly.

The consonance in the second stanza is also effective for readers, particularly with the succession of the words “him his heart.” As alliteration is a form of consonance, this enhances the flow and musicality of the poetic line and creates a sharp contrast with the harsh brevity of the subsequent line.