What Is Alliteration? | Definition, Meaning & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  March 12, 2024 4 min read
Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more nearby words, such as “gentle giant” or “paper plane.” Alliteration gives an air of musicality to our words and makes them more memorable.

Alliteration examples

Tongue twisters typically involve alliteration:

  • A big black bug bit a big black bear.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • A flea and a fly flew up in a flue. Said the flea, “Let us fly!” Said the fly, “Let us flee!” So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Alliteration is often found in poetry and prose, as well as in brand names and products.

What is alliteration?

Alliteration is a literary device that occurs when a series of words begin with the same sound. Usually, it’s the first consonant of a word that is repeated in two or more words or syllables. Because of this, alliteration is also called head rhyme or initial rhyme.

However, it’s important to remember that alliteration refers to sounds, not just letters. For example, “Kate’s cat” is alliterative; even though the two words begin with different letters, they produce the same sound. Conversely, the words “cigar” and “chair” are not alliterative because “ci “and “ch” do not sound the same.


Note
Alliterative words don’t necessarily have to appear one after the other; there can be other words in between.

What is the purpose of alliteration?

Alliteration is common in literary works like poetry and children’s stories, but also in song lyrics, speeches, and advertising. Depending on the context, alliteration can serve a number of different purposes:

  • Rhythm. Alliteration creates rhythm and musicality that are pleasing to the ear. This makes the words flow and enhances the auditory experience of a poem or song. For example, “But you'll look sweet upon the seat / Of a bicycle built for two.”
  • Emphasis. The repetition of specific sounds can help call attention to a certain subject or theme. This is common practice in public speaking. For example, the phrase “Let us go forth to lead the land we love…” from the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy emphasizes the feeling of patriotism.
  • Mood. Depending on whether the repeated sound is soft, like an “s,” or harsh, like a “k,” alliteration can have a specific emotional effect and set the tone of a passage. For example, the phrase “raging river rapids” conjures an image of water running forcefully.
  • Mnemonic device. The use of alliteration helps us memorize things. This is true for poetry and nursery rhymes like “Three Gray Geese,” but we also see it in the corporate world because alliteration makes brand names and products easier to remember. Think, for example, of Dunkin’ Donuts, LuluLemon, and Coca-Cola. Alliteration is also used to create effective and memorable slogans, such as “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”

Alliteration examples

Alliteration is common in literature because it makes a text more melodious and memorable.

Alliteration example in poetry

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is well known for its musicality, which is partly due to the extensive use of alliteration in the poem.

“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.’”


Alliteration can also be used to foreshadow the themes of dramatic works.

Alliteration example in drama

In the opening lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, alliteration not only creates a sense of rhythm, but it also pairs words together: “fatal” and “foes,” “lovers” and “life,” “doth” and “death.” These pairs foreshadow the contrasting themes of the play.

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.”


Many fictional characters are given alliterative names.

Alliteration examples in pop culture

The names or aliases of superheroes and other cartoon characters often include alliteration, such as:
  • Clark Kent
  • Lois Lane
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Bugs Bunny
  • Steven Strange
  • Peppa Pig
  • Wonder Woman


Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Commas

Commonly confused words

Modelling vs modeling

Comma before or after so

Into vs in to

Defence vs defense

Comma before or

Awhile vs a while

Favourite vs favorite

Comma before while

A vs an

Theatre vs theater

Comma before which

Its vs it’s

Organisation vs organization

Comma splice

Use to or used to


Frequently asked questions about alliteration

What is it called when several words start with the same letter?

When several words start with the same letter and produce the same sound, this is called alliteration (e.g., “My neighbors are not normally noisy”).

Conversely, “ten thunders” is not an example of alliteration because “t” and “th” produce different sounds.

What is the difference between alliteration and rhyme?

Alliteration and rhyme both involve repeating parts of a word. However, they repeat different parts of a word.

Whereas alliteration involves repeating the initial sound of a word (e.g., “slithering snake”), rhyme involves the repetition of ending sounds (e.g., “blue” and “flu”). Because of this, alliteration is also known as initial rhyme or head rhyme (to distinguish it from end rhyme).

What is the difference between alliteration and repetition?

Alliteration and repetition are similar literary devices in that they are both used to create rhythm or emphasize an idea. However, they should not be confused.

  • Alliteration involves the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a series of words, like in “grass grows greener.”
  • Repetition involves repeating the same word in different parts of a sentence or paragraph (e.g., “As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door”).

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Kassiani

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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