Alliteration

What Is Alliteration?

Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial consonant sound in successive words. For example:
  • The plate was filled with beautiful buns bursting with berries.
  • He counted seven slimy slugs slithering across the tiles.
Alliteration is used to make writing more rhythmic (in poetry, for example) or more memorable (in a business document, for example).

Table of Contents

  • Alliteration Examples
  • Alliteration or Consonance?
  • Four Useful Points about Alliteration
  • Why Alliteration Is Important
  • Video Lesson
  • Test Time!
example of alliteration
To create alliteration, you need two or more words that start with the same consonant sound. It's important to focus on the sound rather than the letter because it is the sound that catches the audience's attention.

Alliteration Examples

  • He's going to gut the golden goose.
  • Veni, vidi, vici (Emperor Julius Caesar)
  • (I came, I saw, I conquered)
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • (This is a classic example of alliteration that everyone has heard before. However, did you know that a "peck" is one quarter of a bushel. A bushel is 64 dry pints. So, a peck is 16 dry pints.)
  • Keep fully focused on finishing first.
  • She had a respectable teeth-to-tattoo ratio.
  • Veni, vidi, Visa
  • (I came, I saw, I spent)
Here is a joke featuring alliteration:
  • I can't say what my wife does.
    Why? Is it a secret?
    No, she sells seashells by the seashore.
  • (This joke plays on the idea that alliteration often creates a tongue twister. However, alliteration is typically used to make writing more rhythmic or memorable.)

Alliteration or Consonance?

Do not confuse alliteration with consonance. Alliteration refers to only the beginning sound of the word, while consonance refers to any part of a word.
  • Sam can pick or crack the locks.
  • (This is an example consonance not alliteration. The repeated consonant sound of "ck" is not at the beginning of the words.)

Four Useful Points about Alliteration

Here are four useful points about alliteration:

(1) Alliteration and consonance are often seen together.

Alliteration and consonance are often used together. For example:
  • Peter Piper picked pints aplenty, 16 precisely, of pickled peppers.
  • (In this example, the alliterative string features the word "aplenty," which has the repeated "p" sound at a stressed syllable within the word. "Aplenty" can be considered part of the alliteration, but, technically, it is an example of consonance because it does not start with the repeated "p" sound.)
Here is another example of alliteration and consonance used together:
  • It's a furry amphibian from Africa.

(2) Not all words have to be alliterative.

Alliteration is often most effective when it sounds natural. Making alliteration sound natural nearly always means using words that are not alliterative. So, do not doggedly avoid words (especially short words like prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns) that start with a different letter. For example:
  • The westerly winds whistle wildly, wrecking the Westport waterside.
  • (This sounds contrived.)
  • In Westport, the wild westerly winds ravage the coast.
  • (This sounds more natural.)

(3) Your alliteration could be just two words.

Alliteration is often short and subtle. For example:
  • Nothing says home like the smell of the sea.
  • Finishing first requires just three things: practice, practice, and practice.

(4) Alliteration is created by the sound.

Remember that it is the sound that creates the alliteration. So, letters that sound the same can be used to create alliteration. For example:
  • Keep it clean.
  • (In this example, "k" and "c" create the alliteration, even though they're different letters.)
  • Fun-filled phenomena
  • (Here, "f" and "ph" create the alliteration.)
Alliteration is used for emphasis or to make a sentence more pleasing to the ear. It is used in everyday language, poetry, literature, and business writing.

Here are three good reasons to care about alliteration.

(Reason 1) Grab your audience's attention.

Alliteration is a useful technique for poets and song writers as it focuses their audience's attention on the alliterative words. Typically, alliteration is used to create mood or rhythm. Often, the effect suggests an additional meaning. For example, repeating an "s" sound suggests snake-like stealth, and repeating a "b" sound can beget a banging base beat.

(Reason 2) Use alliteration for emphasis and impact.

Used sparingly in business writing (e.g., once in a document), alliteration can:
  • Be used for emphasis.
  • Be memorable.
  • Make an impact.
  • Make you look confident.
Here is an example of how alliteration might look in a business document:
  • The second proposed solution was commercially astute, cost effective, and convincing.

(Reason 3) Don't overuse alliteration.

While alliteration can be a great way to make your sentences catchy and memorable, overuse will make your work sound childish. Unless your primary audience is children, use this technique sparingly to ensure it remains impactful. Here is a video summarizing this lesson on alliteration. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.