Alliteration – how to understand it

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Alliteration – definition

alliteration Alliteration is a figure of speech featuring the repetition of consonant sounds.

alliteration 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.

redbtn 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


redbtn Alliteration is used for emphasis or stylistic effect

redbtn It is featured heavily in children’s rhymes and popular poetry.

redbtn It is also used in the lyrics of popular songs, and in advertising.

redbtn NB! Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, whereas assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds.

redbtn 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.

redbtn The same effect is used in advertising, so that slogans will stick in people’s minds:

Snap, crackle and pop

redbtn [Notice that this example also makes use of assonance and onomatopoeia.]

redbtn Alliteration is used much more in poetry than in prose. It is also used in song lyrics, football chants, and advertising jingles.

redbtn 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


redbtn 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.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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