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Linguistics

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What Is Alliteration?

By A. Gamm
Updated: May 23, 2024

Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound in the beginning of multiple words in a sentence. In Latin, alliteration means “putting words together.” It is an old literary device used by Germans and Anglo-Saxons, and many Anglo-Saxon writers considered it to be more important than using rhyme. Alliteration is used throughout the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. Although alliteration has been present in many famed literary works for hundreds of years, it was not until the 15th century that Pontanus was credited with inventing the term.

It might seem to be a fairly straightforward literary device, but several rules must apply before a phrase is considered to contain alliteration. In each word, the first sound or the first stressed syllable must be identical. The letters used in the word are not taken into consideration. Therefore, “city” and “care” in a phrase would not alliterate, but the words “city” and “safe” do.

Each word must also come in direct succession of one another, or with only a few words separating them. Some examples are “Sally saw seashells” and “good children get many grapes.” A minimum of two words must meet these requirements.

Generally speaking, only beginning consonant words are considered alliteration. The repetition of beginning vowels in words tends to be distinguished from alliteration and labeled as assonance. For example, “Ignacius built igloos in Italy” is considered assonance. Often, alliteration is wrongly confused with or used interchangeably with consonance, which is the repetition of like sounds within the middle or the end of multiple words, such as “he struck a thick streak.”

Alliteration is popularly used because it is pleasing to the ear and memorable. For this reason, it is widely used in advertising and teaching children. Many brand names make use of this literary device to make the name stick in a person’s mind. It is also is used in many children’s rhymes and poetry as a tool to teach them about sounds and differentiating between the many sounds that each letter has. Many children’s poems and stories use alliteration to captivate children and help make them more interested in the written word.

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