Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent centuries, the definition has expan ...
, alliteration is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently. As a method of linking words for effect, alliteration is also called head rhyme or initial rhyme. For example, "''h''umble ''h''ouse," or "''p''otential ''p''ower ''p''lay." A familiar example is "''P''eter ''P''iper ''p''icked a ''p''eck of ''p''ickled ''p''eppers"
. "Alliteration" is from the Latin word ''littera'', meaning "letter of the alphabet"; it was first coined in a Latin dialogue by the Italian humanist
, occupation = poet, humanist
, known_for = Accademia Pontaniana, poetry
Giovanni Pontano (1426–1503), later known as Giovanni Gioviano or la, Ioannes Iovianus Pontanus, was a humanist and poet
A poet is a person who creates poetry ...
in the 15th century. Alliteration is used poetically in various languages around the world, including Arabic, Irish, German, Mongolian, Hungarian,
American Sign Language
American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language
Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology. It is concerned with how a person's cognition and behavior are related to the brain and the rest of the nervous system. Pr ...
, Somali, Finnish, Icelandic.
Some literary experts accept as alliteration the repetition of vowel sounds, or repetition at the end of words. Alliteration narrowly refers to the repetition of a letter in any syllables that, according to the poem's
The metre ( Commonwealth spelling) or meter (American spelling
Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English ...
, are stressed, as in James Thomson
's verse "Come…dragging the ''l''azy ''l''anguid ''l''ine a''l''ong".
In music, consonance and dissonance are categorizations of simultaneous or successive sounds. Within the Western tradition, some listeners associate consonance with sweetness, pleasantness, and acceptability, and dissonance with harshness, unplea ...
is a broader literary device identified by the repetition of consonant sounds at any point in a word (for example, co''m''ing ho''m''e, ho''t'' foo''t''). Alliteration is a special case of consonance where the repeated consonant sound is in the stressed syllable. Alliteration may also refer to the use of different but similar consonants, such as alliterating ''z'' with ''s'', as does the author of ''
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
''Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'' is a late 14th-century in . The author is unknown; the title was given centuries later. It is one of the best-known stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs: the , and the exchange of wi ...
'', or as Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poets would alliterate hard/fricative ''g'' with soft ''g'' (the latter exemplified in some courses as the letter
The letter yogh (ȝogh) ( ; Scots Language, Scots: ; Middle English: ) was used in Middle English and Older Scots, representing ''y'' () and various velar consonant, velar phonemes. It was derived from the Insular G, Insular form of the letter ' ...
– ȝ – pronounced like the ''y'' in yarrow or the ''j'' in Jotunheim).
There is one specialised form of alliteration called ''Symmetrical Alliteration''. That is, alliteration containing parallelism
Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the tech ...
. In this case, the phrase must have a pair of outside end words both starting with the same sound, and pairs of outside words also starting with matching sounds as one moves progressively closer to the centre. For example, "''r''ust ''b''rown ''b''lazers ''r''ule" or "''f''luoro ''c''olour ''c''o-ordination ''f''orever". Symmetrical alliteration is similar to
A palindrome is a word, number
A number is a mathematical object
A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics.
In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, ...
s in its use of symmetry.
"The Raven" is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best know ...
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...
has many examples of alliteration, including the following line: "And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain".
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (; 21 October 177225 July 1834) was an , , and who, with his friend , was a founder of the in England and a member of the . He also shared volumes and collaborated with , , and . He wrote the poems ' and ', as well ...
's poem ''
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
''The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'' (originally ''The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere'') is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of ''Lyrical Ballads'' ...
'' has the following lines of alliteration: "The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew/ The furrow followed free".
Robert Lee Frost (March26, 1874January29, 1963) was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in the United States. Known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloqu ...
's poem ''
Acquainted with the Night
"Acquainted with the Night" is a poem by Robert Frost. It first appeared in the ''Virginia Quarterly Review'' in 1927, and was published in 1928 in his collection ''West-Running Brook''.
Interpretation and form
The poem is most often r ...
'' has the following line of alliteration: "I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet".
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is a twelve-line poem
Poetry (derived from the Greek '' poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature
Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for ...
'' by W. B. Yeats
has the following line of alliteration: "I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore".
William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...
's play ''
As You Like It
''As You Like It'' is a pastoral Shakespearean comedy, comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 and first published in the First Folio in 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton ...
'' has the following lines of alliteration: "And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind/ Which, when it bites and blows upon my body".
Walter Abish (born December 24, 1931) is an Austrian-American author of experimental novels and short stories. He was awarded an MacArthur Fellowship in 1987.
Abish was born to a Jewish
Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 ...
's novel ''
''Alphabetical Africa'' is a constrained writing experiment by Walter Abish. It is written in the form of a novel.
A paperback edition was issued in New York by New Directions Publishing in 1974 with . It was still in print in 2004.
The Constra ...
'' (1974) the first chapter consists solely of words beginning with "A". Chapter two also permits words beginning with "B", and so on, until in chapter 26, Abish allows himself to use words beginning with any letter at all. In the next 25 chapters, he reverses the process.
* Kalevala: The Karelian-Finnish national epoch book
The ''Kalevala'' ( fi, Kalevala, ) is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian language, Karelian and Finnish language, Finnish oral folklore and Finnish mythology, mythology, telling an epic story about the Cre ...
in the 1800s contains alliteration in the Eastern
Finnish may refer to:
* Something or someone from, or related to Finland
* Finnish culture
* Finnish people or Finns, the primary ethnic group in Finland
* Finnish language, the national language of the Finnish people
* Finnish cuisine
See also ... dialect
The term dialect (from Latin , , from the Ancient Greek word , 'discourse', from , 'through' and , 'I speak') can refer to either of two distinctly different types of Linguistics, linguistic phenomena:
* One usage refers to a variety (linguis ...
, for example "Vaka vanha
Väinämöinen () is a deity, demigod, hero and the central character in Finland, Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic ''Kalevala'' by Elias Lönnrot. Väinämöinen was described as an old and wise man, and he possesse ...
", "Steady old Wainamoinen
*In "Thank-You for the Thistle" by Dorie Thurston, poetically written with alliteration in a story form: "Great Aunt Nellie and Brent Bernard who watch with wild wonder at the wide window as the beautiful birds begin to bite into the bountiful birdseed".
*In the nursery rhyme ''Three Grey Geese'' by
The figure of Mother Goose is the imaginary author of a collection of French fairy tales and later of English nursery rhymes. As a character, she appeared in a song, the first stanza of which often functions now as a nursery rhyme. This, howeve ...
, alliteration can be found in the following lines: "Three grey geese in a green field grazing. Grey were the geese and green was the grazing."
A tongue twister is a phrase that is designed to be difficult to articulate properly, and can be used as a type of spoken (or sung) word game
Word games (also called word game puzzles or word search games) are spoken or board games often desig ...
Betty Botter is a tongue-twister written by Carolyn Wells. It was originally titled "The Butter Betty Bought." By the middle of the 20th century, it had become part of the Mother Goose collection of nursery rhymes.
The construction i ...
Carolyn Wells (June 18, 1862 – March 26, 1942) was an American writer and poet.
Life and career
Born in Rahway, New Jersey, she was the daughter of William E. and Anna Wells.
After finishing school she worked as a librarian for the Rahway ...
is an example of alliterative composition: "Betty Botter bought a bit of butter, but she said, this butter's bitter; if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter, but a bit of better butter will make my bitter batter better..."
*Another commonly recited tongue-twister rhyme illustrating alliteration is ''Peter Piper'': "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?".
Alliteration is used in the
In meter (poetry), prosody, alliterative verse is a form of poetry, verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying Metre (poetry), metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The m ...
Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language
English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family
The Indo-European languages are a language family
A language ...
Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia
Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
Old High German
Old High German (OHG, german: Althochdeutsch, German abbr. ) is the earliest stage of the German language
German ( Standard High German: , ) is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe
Central Europe is an area of Euro ...
Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, was a Germanic language
The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European
The Indo-European languages are a language family native to western and southern Eurasia. It comprises most of ...
Old Irish (''Goídelc''; ga, Sean-Ghaeilge; gd, Seann Ghàidhlig; gv, Shenn Yernish or ; Old Irish: ᚌᚑᚔᚇᚓᚂᚉ), sometimes called Old Gaelic, is the oldest form of the Goidelic
The Goidelic or Gaelic languages ( ga, teangacha ...
. It was an important ingredient of the
Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language of South Asia that belongs to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor langua ... shloka
Shloka or śloka ( sa, श्लोक , from the root , Macdonell, Arthur A., ''A Sanskrit Grammar for Students'', Appendix II, p. 232 (Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1927).) is a poetic form used in Sanskrit
Sanskrit (; attributively ...
s. Alliteration was used in Old English given names. This is evidenced by the unbroken series of 9th century kings of
Wessex (; ang, Westseaxna rīċe , 'the Kingdom of the West Saxons') was an Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was Kingdom of England, unified by Æthelstan in 927.
The Anglo-Sa ...
, and Æthelred
. These were followed in the 10th century by their direct descendants
Æthelstan or Athelstan (; ang, Æðelstān ; on, Aðalsteinn; meaning "noble stone"; 894 – 27 October 939) was List of monarchs of Wessex, King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and List of English monarchs, King of the English from 927 ...
, who ruled as kings of
England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. E ...
The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group
Cultural identity is a part of a person's identity
Identity may refer to:
* Identity (social science), personhood or group affiliation in psychology and sociology
Group expression ...
saints Tancred, Torhtred and Tova provide a similar example, among
A sibling is a gender neutral word for a relative that shares at least one parent with the subject. A male
Male (♂) is the sex of an organism that produces the gamete known as sperm. A male gamete can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ov ...
In relation to English poetry, poets can call attention to certain words in a line of poetry by using alliteration. They can also use alliteration to create a pleasant, rhythmic effect. In the following poetic lines, notice how alliteration is used to emphasize words and to create rhythm:
"Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling!'
Walter Whitman (; May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist
Humanism is a philosophical
Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as th ...
, "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"
"They all gazed and gazed upon this green stranger,/because everyone wondered what it could mean/ that a rider and his horse could be such a colour-/ green as grass, and greener it seemed/ than green enamel glowing bright against gold". (232-236) ''Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'', translated by
Bernard O'Donoghue FRSL
The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) is a learned society founded in 1820, by George IV of the United Kingdom, King George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent". The society is a cultural tenant at Lon ...
(In the original, and in J. R. R. Tolkien's translation, this poem in fact follows an alliterative meter.)
"Some papers like writers, some like wrappers. Are you a writer or a wrapper?"
Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, biographer, journalist, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln (; Febr ...
, "Paper I"
Alliteration can also add to the mood of a poem. If a poet repeats soft, melodious sounds, a calm or dignified mood can result. If harsh, hard sound are repeated, on the other hand, the mood can become tense or excited. In this poem, alliteration of the s, l, and f sounds adds to a hushed, peaceful mood:
Alliteration has been used in various spheres of public speaking and rhetoric. Alliteration can also be considered an artistic constraint that is used by the orator to sway the audience to feel some type of urgency, or perhaps even lack of urgency, or another emotional effect. For example, H or E sounds can soothe, whereas a P or a B sound can be percussive and attention-grabbing. S sounds can imply danger or make the audience feel as if they are being deceived. Other sounds can create feelings of happiness, discord, or anger, depending on context. Alliteration serves to "intensify any attitude being signified".
Its significance as a rhetorical device is that it adds a textural complexity to a speech, making it more engaging, moving, and memorable. The use of alliteration in a speech captivates a person's auditory senses; this helps the speaker to create a mood. The use of a repeating sound or letter is noticeable, and so forces an audience's attention and evokes emotion.
A well-known example is in John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, in which he uses alliteration 21 times. The last paragraph of his speech is given as an example here.
"Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high ''s''tandards of ''s''trength and ''s''acrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to ''l''ead the ''l''and we ''l''ove, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God's work must truly be our own." —
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States
The president of the United States (POTUS) is the ...
Other examples of alliteration in some famous speeches:
* "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the ''c''olor of their skin but by the ''c''ontent of their ''c''haracter." —
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an African American
African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group of Americans with total or part ...
* "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the ''s''tar that guides us ''s''till; just as it guided our forebears through ''S''eneca Falls, and ''S''elma, and ''S''tonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, ''s''ung and un''s''ung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher ''s''ay that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every ''s''oul on Earth". —
Barack Hussein Obama II ( ; born August 4, 1961) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 44th president of the United States
The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government ...
* "And our nation itself is testimony to the love our veterans have had for it and for us. All for which America stands is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to ''f''ace the ''f''ire at ''f''reedom's ''f''ront." —
Ronald Wilson Reagan ( ; February 6, 1911June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States
The president of the United States (POTUS) is the and of the . The president directs the of ...
, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Address.
* "''F''our score and seven years ago our ''f''athers brought ''f''orth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". —
Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States
The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of governme ...
, Gettysburg Address.
* "''P''atent ''p''ortae; ''p''roficiscere!" ("The gates are open; depart!") —
Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...
The Catiline or Catilinarian Orations () are a set of speeches to the Roman Senate given in 63 BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 – 7 December 43 BC) was a Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, phi ...
Translation can lose the emphasis developed by this device. For example, in the accepted Greek text of Luke 10:41 the repetition and extension of initial sound are noted as Jesus doubles Martha's name and adds an alliterative description: Μάρθα Μάρθα μεριμνᾷς (''M''artha, ''M''artha, ''m''erimnas). This is lost in the English NKJ and NRS translations "''M''artha, ''M''artha, you are ''w''orried and distracted by many things."
Alliteration is commonly used in modern
Music is the of arranging s in time through the of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the aspects of all human societies. General include common elements such as (which governs and ), (and its associated concepts , , and ...
but is also seen in magazine article titles, advertisements, business names, comic strips, television shows, video games and in the dialogue and naming of cartoon characters.
* " Helplessly Hoping
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) is a folk rock
Folk rock is a hybrid music genre combining elements of folk music and rock music, which arose in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s. In the U.S., folk rock emerged ...
has rich alliteration in every verse.
* " Mr. Tambourine Man
Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author and visual artist. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in for more than 50 years. Much of ...
employs alliteration throughout the song, including the lines: "Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free/ Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands."
Mother Nature's Son
"Mother Nature's Son" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles
The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison ...
The Beatles were an English rock
Rock most often refers to:
* Rock (geology)
A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical compou ...
includes the line: "Swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun."
* Rapper Tech N9ne usually uses this technique in songs. Most notable is "B.Boy" from (K.O.D. album) where he raps whole verse with 91 words using letter B.
* A 1968 episode of ''The Tonight Show''
featured a "Copper Clapper Caper" skit with guest
John Randolph Webb (April 2, 1920 – December 23, 1982) was an American actor, television producer
A television producer is a person who oversees one or more aspects of video production
Video production is the process of producing vide ...
of '' Dragnet
Alliteration (Latin)The term alliteration was invented by the Italian humanist Giovanni Pontano (1426–1503), in his dialogue ''Actius'', to describe the practice common in Virgil, Lucretius, and other Roman writers of beginning words or syllables with the same conso ...
Assonance is a resemblance in the sounds of words/syllables either between their vowels (e.g., ''meat, bean'') or between their consonants (e.g., ''keep, cape''). However, assonance between consonants is generally called ''consonance'' in American ...
Onomatopoeia (also onomatopeia in American English
American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Cu ...
A collection of Dutch alliterations and related material
(with sound files)
Examples of alliteration in poetry
Poetry articles needing expert attention