Writing

What Is Alliteration in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Posted: January 3, 2023
Word count: 1,318 (5 min)

Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of words to create a pleasant and enduring feeling in the reader.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

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What is alliteration?

Alliteration is the repetition of a similar sound at the beginning of a word.

Take this excerpt for example.

"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.”"

This passage is taken from Edgar Allan Poe's poem 'The Raven'.

In the first line, you will see that the 'w' sound is repeated, in the second line, the hard 'k' sound is repeated; in the third, the 'n' sound, and the 't' sound in the fourth. Further, the 'o' is repeated at the beginning of most lines.

What the poet has done is tried to create a sense of pulsing feeling with the use of alliterative words. As one reads further into the poem, the alliterative words are more frequent, producing a racing heart rhythm. This is what alliteration does. It creates sounds into a certain rhythm to simulate a certain feeling.

Why is alliteration used in writing poetry?

Alliteration is used in writing poetry for a number of reasons. In literature alliteration is used to create a feeling of a surrounding, what we understand as mood. Certain words are associated with particular feelings, for example, gloom, ghastly, ghost, gallows, ghoul are dark mysterious words we use to denote horror or supernatural things. Hence, alliteration help create a mood in literature or poetry.

The second reason why alliteration is so widely used in literature throughout ages is because it simply sounds good. Alliteration have same beginning consonant sound which creates a pleasant feeling for the tongue while reading it out loud, or even reading quietly. Two or more words with the same initial sound also help create a link between the ideas those words want to convey.

Using alliteration also sounds lyrical and helps ornamentalize the piece of literature one is using it in. Alliteration creates a head rhyme for the line since the end rhymes are not very much used in contemporary poetry.

How to write alliteration?

Alliteration may sound easy. Just match head consonant sounds, right? But writing alliteration can be a challenging task, especially if one is consciously trying to find words with same letter that carry on the meaning they are trying to convey.

Creative writing is a difficult job to start with. Creating something entirely new with the old methods and structures takes a lot of patience and practice. To start using alliteration in writing, try finishing the whole piece together, then replace the neighboring words with same letter sounds.

Choose words that genuinely express the mood you are trying to create: do not push an alliteration where it is not need or where the task would exactly be the same with non alliterative words.

Too much use of alliteration makes it sound annoying and cliched. Making organic use of poetic devices makes a writing good.

What is the difference between alliteration, assonance, and consonance?

Alliterative words begin same consonant sound. It is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds, that is, when the words begin.

Assonance is the recurrence of vowel sounds irrespective of beginning, end or middle.

Consonance refers specifically to repetition of consonant sounds irrespective of the position. Alliteration is a part of the literary device called consonance.

Examples of Alliteration in Literature

Great literature use alliteration to enhance the field of creativity and expression. Alliterative phrases are very common in Old English language as well as contemporary literature. Alliteration examples in literature are as follows.

The Dead, James Joyce

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Autumn Song, 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."

The Old Man and the Sea, 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."

I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died, Emily Dickinson

"I heard a fly buzz when I died;

The stillness round my form

Was like the stillness in the air

Between the heaves of storm"

Piers Plowman, William Langland

"But on a May morning on Malvern hills,

A marvel befell me, of fairy, methought.

I was weary with wandering and went me to rest Under a broad bank by a brook's side,

And as I lay and leaned over and looked into the waters

I fell into a sleep, for it sounded so merry."

Thank You for the Thistle, Dorie Thurston

"Gee, Great Aunt Nellie, why aren't any golden goldfinches going to the goodies?" "Oh," said Aunt Nellie, "They thrive on thistle and I thoroughly thought that I threw the thistle out there."

Rime of Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"The fair breeze blow, the white foam flew,

The furrow followed free;

We were the first that ever burst

Into that silent sea."

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

"Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day."

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

"...his appearance: something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere"

Birches, Robert Frost

"They click upon themselves

As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored

As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells

Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust"

Hamlet, 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"

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

"Up the aisle, the moans and screams merged with the sickening smell of woolen black clothes worn in summer weather and green leaves wilting over yellow flowers."

Summary

Alliteration is a literary device that repeats the same sound, specifically, consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Successive words with alliteration like "peck of pickled peppers" make it sound interesting, creates a mood, and builds a pleasant feeling when read.

Literature, business names, advertisements makes use of alliteration to engage audience and add a fun tongue twister to their content. Most business and organization names use alliteration to make consumers remember them and engage their attention. We are heavily familiar with Dunkin Donuts, Coca Cola, Weight Watchers, Paw Petrol, Door Dash, Fantastic Four who use alliteration to remain memorable.

Media uses alliteration to create catchy character names and show names like Bob the Builder, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Peppa Pig, Peter Parker, and Bugs Bunny.

Alliteration is different from assonance and consonance. Moreover, alliteration is a part of consonance. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds and consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds, irrespective of their position. Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of the word. This means if you have to identify alliteration, look same initial sounds or initial letter in nearby words.

Alliteration examples can be found in great literature - in stories and poems of Edgar allan Poe, John Milton, Maya Angeloue, and other great writers quoted above.

"Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved
His vastness: Fleeced the flocks and bleating rose,
As plants: Ambiguous between sea and land
The river-horse, and scaly crocodile."
(Paradise Lost).

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