When will wonderful, winsome words win a restless reader’s recognition? If you know how to use alliteration (as shown in the sentence above), you may be able to catch your reader’s attention more easily.
Alliteration adds to the reading experience in poetry and literature, and it can even be powerful enough to change your mind in a spellbinding, spurring speech.
Alliteration is a repetition of consonant sounds in the beginnings of multiple words.
- Becky's beagle barked and bayed, becoming bothersome for Billy.
- On Friday, Fred's friends fried fresh fritters.
- Kim’s kid complimented Katie’s careful kicks.
Because alliteration pleases the listener, it’s an important part of persuasive and argumentative writing as well. Alliteration can function as a rhetorical device when a speaker wants to convince their audience of something.
You may see several different types of alliteration — or a combination of them — in your reading. As long as you can hear the repeated initial sounds when you read the sentence out loud, it’s alliteration. including:
- Initial shared letter sounds
(Becky's beagle barked and bayed, becoming bothersome for Billy.)
- Initial shared blended letter sounds
(On Friday, Fred's friends fried fresh fritters.)
- Initial shared sounds from different letters
(Kim’s kid complimented Katie’s careful kicks.)
Adjacent alliteration occurs when every word in a row shares the same initial consonant sound.
When non-alliterative words in the sentence interrupt the alliteration, it’s known as non-adjacent alliteration.
Need to Know
Some writers consider other repeated sounds to be alliteration as well, such as initial shared vowel sounds (Izzy imagines she’s in Indiana) and terminal shared consonant sounds (Matt can’t fit in the tight seat).
Alliteration is more than fun tongue twisters and nursery rhymes. It can help a writer drive a point home or paint a picture in a reader’s mind. You’ll find it in all types of writing, including poetry, literature, and rhetorical speeches.
In poetry, alliteration can make connections between images or ideas, as well as add an additional beat in the poem’s rhythm.
Langston Hughes uses alliteration to make the direct comparison between “dream deferred” and “does it dry up” in his poem “Harlem.”
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun …
(Dickinson, "Because I Could Not Stop for Death")
Edgar Allan Poe’s use of alliteration adds an element of madness — or a character trying to prove they’re not mad in a structured way — to his story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the title of which also contains alliteration.
The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
(Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart)
Alliteration Examples in Romeo and Juliet Explained
Martin Luther King, Jr. often used alliteration in his rhetoric to add emphasis to his words and make connections between concepts. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he uses alliteration to connect “color” with “content” and “character.”
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
(King, "I Have a Dream")
Winston Churchill used alliteration in his “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech to stir the British people to action during World War II.
Notice how easily a listener could be swept up in the alliteration of “s” and “f” words.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
(Churchill, "We Shall Fight on the Beaches")
You don’t need to be a literary master or professional orator to find or use alliteration. All you need is one initial sound to carefully craft creative, charming sentences.
- Can you keep the cat from clawing the couch? It's creating chaos.
- Dan's dog dove deep in the dam, drinking dirty water as he dove.
- Greedy goats gobbled up gooseberries, getting good at grabbing the goodies.
- Hannah's home has heat now, hopefully.
- Jackrabbits jump and jiggle jauntily.
- Larry's lizard likes lounging on the land.
- Mike made mellow music with his new microphone.
- Nick's nephew needed some new notebooks.
- Peter's piglet pranced priggishly.
- Quincy's quilters quit quilting quickly.
- Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer rose rapidly into the air.
- Seven sisters slept soundly on the sand.
- Tim took tons of tools to make toys for the tots.
- Vivien is very vixen-like and vexing.
- While walking wearily I wondered where Wally was.
- Yarvis yanked his ankle at yoga, and Yolanda yelled out in surprise.
- Zachary zeroed in on zookeeping as a career.
Some of the sentences above might sound like tongue twisters.
In fact, tongue twisters often use alliteration (such as "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers").
Companies use the alliterative effect all the time to help their customers remember their names. The human brain likes the repetition of alliteration, making it easier to store in your memory.
Think of all of the famous and well-known brands and companies that have used alliteration in their names.
- Bed Bath & Beyond
- Best Buy
- Chuck E. Cheese
- Dunkin' Donuts
- Krispy Kreme
- Park Place
An alliterative name can help you stand out in the crowd and make you more memorable. There are probably some fictional characters or public figures that stand out in your head as a result of the alliterative effect of their name.
Examples of famous alliterative names (real and fictional) include:
- Donald Duck
- Fred Flintstone
- Jesse Jackson
- Katie Couric
- Kim Kardashian
- Lois Lane
- Luna Lovegood
- Marilyn Monroe
- Mickey Mouse
- Peter Parker
- Ronald Reagan
- Ryan Reynolds
- Sammy Sosa
- Spongebob Squarepants
- William Wordsworth
Like alliterative company names and proper names, alliteration in common sayings and idioms helps to make them memorable. "Right as rain" is much more fun to say than "totally right!"
- busy as a bee
- dead as a doornail
- get your goat
- give up the ghost
- good as gold
- home sweet home
- last laugh
- leave in the lurch
- mad as a March hare
- make a mountain out of a molehill
- method to the madness
- neck and neck
- nervous nelly
- pleased as punch
- primrose path
- right as rain
- ride roughshod
Both alliteration and consonance are sound devices that involve repeated consonant sounds.
The difference is their placement in a word: Alliteration appears in the initial sound of the word, while consonance appears in the middle of the word.
- Alliteration - Ten tiny tigers turned tan and ticklish.
- Consonance - Little rotten nettles are gritty in butter.
Assonance refers to repeated vowel sounds within multiple words. Like alliteration and consonance, it’s easiest to find assonance when you read a sentence out loud.
- Alliteration - Ten tiny tigers turned tan and ticklish.
- Assonance - Please clean the sheep near the piercing green field.
All three sound devices tend to appear together in poetry and other written works.
Masterful writers can blend alliteration, consonance, and assonance in a way that you hardly notice them when you read, but the sentence is nonetheless unforgettable.
Alliteration is easy to spot, if you know what to look for — and it’s even easier if you read the sentences out loud.
Can you find the examples of alliteration below?