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What Is the Difference between Rhyme and Alliteration?

Rhyme and alliteration are both poetic devices that add rhythm and musicality to language. Rhyme occurs when words have similar ending sounds, often at line endings, creating a harmonious effect. Alliteration, on the other hand, repeats consonant sounds at the beginning of closely connected words, producing a catchy and memorable sequence. How might these techniques color your perception of poetry?
G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

The difference between rhyme and alliteration typically comes down to how the words in a particular section relate to each other. Alliteration is a repetition of letter sounds between multiple words, which often creates a relationship between those words and can serve a number of literary and poetic purposes. Rhyme, on the other hand, is when two or more words share larger sounds, typically based on a matching vowel and the sound that follows it. While both rhyme and alliteration can be used to create rhythm and give a piece of writing a more song-like quality, they do so in different ways.

Rhyme and alliteration are both devices used in writing, especially poetry and works meant to have a lyrical quality to them. They can both be used in similar ways, but their structure and how the words relate within each usage are quite different. A rhyme is typically created between two or more words through a shared vowel sound, followed by one or more syllables that reinforce this shared sound. For example, “hair” and “care” rhyme because they share a long “a” vowel sound followed by a similar sound of “r,” and a longer rhyme such as “awaken” and “bacon” rhymes because they share the same long “a” sound followed by the same “-con” sound.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Though rhyme and alliteration are similar in that they both function through shared sounds between words, alliteration is quite different in structure. Alliteration is created through shared sounds between words, usually at the beginning of a word, without the sounds that follow it being shared. “Tough” and “stuff” rhyme because they share the middle vowel sound and the sound after it; “the tough tree tilted, bent, and uprooted, then toppled toward the town” uses alliteration as the “t” sound is repeated throughout. The words that share this sound do not follow it with the same sounds, however, so there is no rhyme within the phrase.

Rhyme and alliteration can be used to achieve very similar purposes. Many simple rhymes are created to help people remember things. Such mnemonic devices are used as counting games to teach numbers and to attract attention to an advertisement or product name. Alliteration can also be used to attract attention, and it can be used to make a particular idea stand out among a larger section of a work. Both rhyme and alliteration are also frequently used in poetry to set the rhythm of a piece and to create an aural quality in a poem that is pleasing, which is often important since many poems are meant to be read aloud.

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