Alliteration is when the same sound occurs at the beginning of more than one words that are close together.
- “We send well wishes to the Winchester crew.”
In poetry, the repeated consonant sound tends to come on stressed beats, as it does in Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven”:
- “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,”
In this example, the repeat “n” sounds on every other iambic syllable mimics the experience of nodding off, which strengthens the meaning of the line.
Alliteration comes from the Latin word littera, which means “letter of the alphabet.” First mentioned in the early seventeenth century, this device was commonly used in early English, Norse, and Sanskrit. Medieval English monarchs gave their descendants alliterative names — just like the Duggar family, who named every one of their 19 children starting with the letter J!
Alliteration continues to play an important role in both creative writing and advertising. The repeated sounds make slogans and names easier to remember, add music to the written word, and help to unify or emphasize key phrases.
How Do You Identify Alliteration in Writing?
When looking for alliteration, you need to make sure you are distinguishing it from two similar devices, consonance and assonance. Consonance is a repeated consonant sound inside words, while assonance is a repeated vowel sound. This phrase from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” gives good examples of both consonance and assonance:
- “Looked toward the lower bay to notice. . . “
Consonance occurs in the repeated “w” sounds. At the same time, Whitman uses assonance in the form of repeating “o” sounds.
Tip: The spoken sound is what’s important, not the written letters. Thus, “kind cat” is alliterative, but “kind knight” is not.
Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance Examples
- Bed, Bath & Beyond
- “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” is the title from a poem by William Butler Yeats.
- The New York Times uses assonance to make its slogan memorable: “All the news that’s fit to print.“
- Betty Botter bought some butter,/but, she said, the butter’s bitter” is a children’s tongue twister with lots of “b” alliteration.
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- “With Blue — uncertain — stumbling Buzz –” Emily Dickinson’s capitalization emphasizes the alliteration.
- “Tell all the truth but tell it a slant” is the title from another Dickinson poem. Here, she uses alliteration (with the letter “t’) and consonance (with the letter “l”).
- “Sylvia could see the white sails of ships out at sea” comes from Sarah Orne Jewett’s short story, “A White Heron.”