Alliteration – how to understand it
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Alliteration – definition
Alliteration is a figure of speech featuring the repetition of consonant sounds.
These are the hard sounds of letters such as B, D, K, P, and T – as distinct from the softer vowel sounds of letters such as A, E, I, O, and U.
The repeated sound is often (but not always) at the beginning of words.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore
‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor’
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
Alliteration is used for emphasis or stylistic effect
It is featured heavily in children’s rhymes and popular poetry.
It is also used in the lyrics of popular songs, and in advertising.
NB! Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, whereas assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds.
Alliteration is used a great deal (along with assonance) in children’s rhymes, because it emphasises rhythm and makes memorising easier.
Baa baa blacksheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, no sir.
Three bags full.
The same effect is used in advertising, so that slogans will stick in people’s minds:
Snap, crackle and pop
[Notice that this example also makes use of assonance and onomatopoeia.]
Alliteration is used much more in poetry than in prose. It is also used in song lyrics, football chants, and advertising jingles.
Alliteration also has a long and distinguished history. Middle English poetry was written in a verse form which featured the repetition of consonants within the line:
In a somer season, whan soft was the sonne
I shope me in shroudes, as I a shepe were
Take care not to use alliteration where it is not appropriate — in formal writing for instance. In such cases, it can have a distracting and irritating effect.
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© Roy Johnson 2003
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