What Is Consonance? | Definition & Examples

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in a series of words, such as “pitter-patter” or “cheeky monkey.” Consonance lends a musical quality to a piece of writing and can be used to create a specific mood or atmosphere.

Consonance examples
Nursery rhymes often use consonance to add a melodic and memorable quality.

Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one,
And down he run,
Hickory, dickory, dock.

Consonance can enhance the impact of language in different contexts such as poetry, prose, and advertising.

What is consonance?

Consonance is a literary device that involves the repetition of the same consonant sound in a group of words. The repeated sound can occur anywhere in the word, including the beginning, middle, or end. Furthermore, it can appear in stressed or unstressed syllables.

With consonance, sounds, not letters, matter. For example, “cake” and “kick” create consonance, despite having different letters, because they share the same “k” sound. Moreover, only the consonant sounds need to be identical; the preceding vowel sounds are often different (e.g., “cake,” “kick”). Due to this, consonance does not always create rhyme.

Consonance vs alliteration

Both alliteration and consonance involve the repetition of consonant sounds, but the terms cannot always be used interchangeably.

With alliteration, the initial consonant of a word is repeated in at least one other neighboring word, as in “Betty Botter bought some butter.” Alliteration is considered a subtype of consonance. However, not all examples of consonance are alliterative.

With consonance, the repeated consonant sound can be in any position within a word, as in “The mysterious darkness embraced the old staircase.”

Consonance and alliteration examples
Consonance that is also alliteration: The soft wind whispered through the willow branches.

Consonance that is not alliteration: The soft wind whispered through the willow branches.

Consonance vs assonance

Both assonance and consonance involve the repetition of specific sounds, but they differ in the type of sound that is repeated.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words, while consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in a series of words. For example, the phrase “make way for the lady of the lake” is an example of assonance in which the “a” sound is repeated. In contrast, in the phrase “a stroke of luck,” the “k” sound is repeated, which is an example of consonance.

Why do authors use consonance?

Writers use consonance to achieve different goals depending on the context, such as:

  • Musicality and rhythm. Consonance creates a pleasing rhythm that makes words and phrases easier to remember. Because of this, consonance is a common sound device in poetry, nursery rhymes, and speeches.
  • Emotional impact. Different sounds are associated with different feelings. For example, some consonants are harsh (e.g., “k” or “d”) and can evoke tension or excitement. Conversely, others have a softer sound (e.g., “f” or “th”) and may create a gentle effect.
  • Emphasis. Writers use consonance to draw attention to specific words or phrases and to emphasize a certain point or idea. For example, the repetition of “r” in “Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break” paints a very vivid image of stormy weather.
  • Aesthetic pleasure. Consonance is a deliberate artistic choice that contributes to the overall beauty of a text. The careful selection and arrangement of similar sounds can show an author’s skillful command of language.

Consonance examples

Consonance plays a significant role in literature, both in poetry and in prose.

Consonance in literature

In the poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, there is a repetition of “n” and “l” sounds. This creates a sense of flow and unity throughout the poem. The repeated soft sounds also emphasize the romantic and lyrical nature of the poem.

Consonance in literature example
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lives with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

In the following passage from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the crew is engaged in a dangerous encounter with the White Whale. The repetition of the “r” sound in words like “crossed,” “re-crossed,” and “irons,” emphasizes the dramatic tension of the moment.

Consonance in literature example
“But at last in his untraceable evolutions, the White Whale so crossed and re-crossed, and in a thousand ways entangled the slack of the three lines now fast to him, that they foreshortened, and, of themselves, warped the devoted boats towards the planted irons in him; though now for a moment the whale drew aside a little, as if to rally for a more tremendous charge. Seizing that opportunity, Ahab first paid out more line; and then was rapidly hauling and jerking in upon it—hoping that way to disencumber it of some snarls—when lo!—a sight more savage than the embattled teeth of sharks!”

Frequently asked questions about consonance

What is the difference between consonance and assonance?

Consonance and assonance are both literary devices relying on the repetition of certain sounds. However, there is a difference between the two.

Whereas consonance involves the repetition of consonant sounds (like “b,” “d,” or “g”), assonance occurs when vowel sounds (like “a,” “i,” or “o”) are repeated within a series of words.

What is an example of consonance?

An example of consonance is the last line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in which the “t” sound is repeated: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou, MSc

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.