Even if you’ve never heard of the word “alliteration” before, you’ve definitely come across it. From books and poetry to catchphrases and business names, alliteration is everywhere.
But it’s not only about using words with the same letter over and over again. In this post, we’ll talk you through the different types and a few alliteration examples to help inspire your own writing.
What Is Alliteration?
Let’s take a moment to reflect back on our English classes and think about what alliteration actually is. Many people think that it’s simply about using different words that begin with the same letter (like picture perfect or jumping jacks), but that’s not quite true. Alliteration is the repetition of two or more neighboring words where the initial consonant sounds similar.
While many alliteration examples do use the same letter at the beginning of each neighboring word to produce the necessary sound, that’s not always the case. The words in “kids’ coats” don’t begin with the same letters, but when spoken aloud, they make the same consonant sound and so are considered to be alliterative.
Alliteration can also feature non-alliterative words, like “the” or “and”, in between. A sentence like “Pippa’s parrot pranced around the porch perfectly” is still alliteration, even with “around the” in the middle.
There are examples of alliteration dotted all over popular culture. The human brain loves repetition when it comes to storing information in long-term memory, which is why so many companies make use of alliteration in their products and brand names:
- Mickey/Minnie Mouse
- Lois Lane
- Peter Parker
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- Coca Cola
- Best Buy
- Paw Patrol
- House Hunters
You’re probably familiar with alliteration as a literary device that has been used by authors and poets all over the world, but it’s also used in tongue twisters too. One of the most famous, “Peter Piper picked a piece of pickled pepper,” is commonly used by actors or public speakers before a performance to improve their pronunciation and articulation.
Types of Alliteration
Among the easiest to hear and recognize of the types is sibilance. This is where neighboring words make a hissing or whooshing sound as they repeat. Tongue twister “she sells seashells by the seashore” is a good example of alliteration using this technique.
With consonance, the focus is on repeated consonant sounds found at any point in successive words, e.g., “jump through a hoop” or “front and center.” Alliteration is really considered to be a subcategory of consonance, as the repeated sound is usually at the beginning of a word. Consonance allows the repeated sound to be anywhere.
Assonance, also known as vowel rhyme, is a type of repetition that’s usually found in the middle of a word. Vowels may not be exactly the same from word to word, but the sound they make will produce alliteration. “She fell asleep under the willow tree” is an example of assonance alliteration, as the “ee” sound is repeated in close succession with “asleep” and “tree.”
Like sibilance, fricative focuses on the sounds of particular letters to create a certain repeating noise. In this case, “v” and “f” sounds are used to give an airy, breathless sound. Fricatives are most commonly used in poetry and prose (Shakespeare was a big fan) to convey mysterious or light atmospheres: think “flowers slowly fading in the dewy spring fields.”
There are several plosive consonants in English (b, g, k, p), where air is completely blocked by mouth movements as you pronounce those letters. These letters make a small explosive sound as you say them, so they’re often used in alliteration for added emphasis and meaning. “Bella broke the breakfast bar perched on the tabletop” is an example of plosive.
Dental is a technique where “d” and “t” sounds are repeated throughout a sentence or stanza of poetry. These sounds are made by using your tongue against your upper teeth (which is where the dental part of this comes from), like “Danny turned his table upside down.”
Often used in vocal warm-ups for singers or speakers, vocalic is where the same vowel sounds are repeated at the beginning of a set of words. Where most alliteration is consonantal, where consonant sounds are repeated at the start of the word, vocalic repetition like “exceptional work was produced by every editor” uses both the same letter and vowel combination.
General is the most commonly used and understood form of alliteration, which makes it a great place to start as a beginner writer. All you need to do is repeat the beginning sound or syllable in a series of words, such as “Sophie saw a sausage stand.”
The English language can be confusing, especially when it comes to words like “knife” or “gnome.” How they read is very different from how they sound. Words with silent letters can make alliteration tricky, so unvoiced may be the best option if you’re writing something that is never intended to be spoken. You can still use phrases like “Penny partied with a purple pterodactyl” to create alliteration on paper, but only the first part of the sentence will be alliterative when read out loud.
Words that emphasize “g” and “c” sounds are used to create guttural alliteration. These sounds are made from the back of your mouth, often giving them a deeper and harsher sound than something like a fricative consonant. “Grace ran after the cat that got away” is an example of guttural.
Liquid is a focus on words using repeated “l” and “r” sounds, like “the father played the rattle for the baby.” These sounds are made when the tongue blocks some of the air coming out of the mouth as the letters are spoken, giving them a more fluid and light nature than other letters.
Symmetrical alliteration is fun to play with as a writer, particularly in poetry. This is where a phrase begins and ends with the same sound in a mirrored format. For example, “the boys played patacake badly” uses the same “b” and “p” sounds in the phrase, but the first two uses are reversed for the second two uses.
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Alliteration in Poetry
It’s very common in poetry to use short or interrupted sentences to create the rhythm and flow that you’re looking for. That’s why it’s often better to use alliterative words, rather than trying to make a full sentence fit when you’re using poetic alliteration.
Using a handful of alliterative words in your poetry can help your reader to understand the vibe that you’re going for, as well as simply being pleasing to read or listen to. Sibilance is perfect for adding a creepy feel to your poetry, like “serpents slithered, like silvery light on the shining surface,” or use repeated hard vowels to build tension such as. “his heart, a great chasm, pounding in jealous rage.”
Examples in Poetry
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
“The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.”
The Raven by 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”
Much Madness is divinest Sense by Emily Dickinson:
“Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness”
Alliteration in Literature
Shakespeare used alliteration throughout most of his works, both in his poetry and prose. Many of his sentences were structured around some form of the device, like “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes” in Romeo and Juliet, and are great examples of how to construct alliterative sentences in your own writing.
Unlike poetry, where shorter phrases are more common, using alliteration in longer sentences can be tricky but can produce incredibly effective results in your creative writing. Don’t stick to just one form, either. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of different vowel and consonant sounds that can be repeated in unexpected ways to produce alliteration.
Examples in Literature
Hamlet by William Shakespeare:
“And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway:
“But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.”
Perfect Your Poetry or Prose
There’s way more to alliteration than starting a few words with the same letter—it’s a powerful literary tool to have in your back pocket.
Now that you have a better idea of what it is and how you can use it, you’re ready to give it a go in your next writing project.
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