What Is Alliteration? Definition, History, and Examples

Alliteration, often called initial rhyme or head rhyme, is the constant repetition of similar initial consonant sounds in quick succession in either a phrase or even in a sentence. Here, we shall discuss everything relating to alliteration, from its history to examples in modern literature.

Alliteration basically links two words to give it an all-around meaning or purpose. To a greater effect, alliteration means when you use different but identical consonants. So, what then are consonants?

Consonants (What Are They)?

Consonant sounds happen when a speech sound is uttered, but this is achieved by limiting the breath or half closure of the vocal tract.

Brief Description of Alliteration

First of all, it is important to know some basic alliteration examples to understand better what it means. An excellent example of Alliteration is Flood Floor, Stable Station, Stain Stay, and many more.

Alliteration, a lot of times, can be used effectively, but in a poetic sense in various languages around the globe. Some of the nations or languages it is used in are German, Arabic, Hungarian, Finnish, Somalia, and even Icelandic, to name just a few.

A good thing to register when it comes to alliteration is the words in a row need to begin with the same sounds. If this goes the other way, then it cannot be referred to as alliteration. There are lots of definitions of alliteration.

However, they all mean the same thing and are a bit more straightforward in their definition of alliteration.

Despite the fact that there are various definitions of alliteration, the question posed on people’s minds is, where did it originate? But before we talk about its origin and history, let us talk about some powerful names that have used alliteration, either knowingly or unknowingly.

There are lots of influential people who have used alliteration in their speeches. Some of them are John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and even Martin Luther King.

Some of the Famous Quotes Were:

Alliteration example by Barack ObamaWe, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth“- Barack Obama.

Martin Luther King“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King.

John F. Kennedy“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own. ” John F. Kennedy.

Abraham Lincoln“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Abraham Lincoln.

There are lots of influential names that, one way or the other, used alliteration to give their speech. However, it’s best we name just the four names above, as those speeches were quite informative in the past.

History of Alliteration

Statue of Giovanni Pontano
Giovanni Pontano, 1426–1503, is the founder of the term alliteration.

The humanist Giovanni Pontano, an Italian, was the sole founder of the term ‘Alliteration.’ Alliteration was derived from the Latin word Littera, which invariably means “Letter of the alphabet.”

Pontano had multiple examples to drive through with his point. He used the term alliteration to mean the repetition of letters in either the center or beginning of words. To further his claim, he mentioned how the last syllable of a word starts with the same consonant as the first syllable of a new word in a similar fashion.

In the first to the third century, alliteration was a mainstay in Latin literature. In addition, it didn’t stop at that, as it was persistently used by some writers in the middle ages.

Furthermore, it is best to look at how alliteration is used in poetry. We shall talk about the three ways it can be inculcated in poetry

Ways Alliteration Is Used in Poetry

1) The main aim or purpose of using alliteration in poetry is to sound soothing to the ears. Also, writers or influencers use alliteration to draw the attention of not just only the readers but also the writers.

When used effectively, it enhances the subject being discussed.

2) Secondly, another way alliteration is used is to develop the mood around. Ideally, people can give speeches of various magnitudes, but when the speaker or writer repeats certain connotations, it further amplifies the speech or sentence being delivered.

A good example would be to take the ‘S’ sound in ‘Snake,’ ‘Silver,’ ‘Slay.’ While trying to pronounce those words, you can sense there is a bit of mystery to those words, giving the fact that they sound a little whispered.

Additionally, when pronounced, those words can contain a little bit of intimacy, but it all comes down to how it has been used in a context. Plus, to explain further, the term ‘sibilance’ is a word that specializes in those classes of letter sounds.

3) Thirdly, the use of alliteration is to create a form of initial rhyme or head rhyme, as previously discussed at the beginning of this article. When people give out a speech with alliteration, it lends a verse of some melody to the listeners, and they get a sense of how they should read that speech out loud.

Most poets have realized that rhyme has become less popular or accepted, so they now use alliteration with its siblings’ addition (consonance and assonance), which all make useful tools, especially when writing.

So, speaking of alliteration and its siblings, it is best to discuss the difference between all three.

What’s the Difference between Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance?

As we all know by now that alliteration is the repetition of similar initial consonant sounds in quick succession in either a phrase or a group of words. Experts around have skipped vowel sounds entirely from their definition.

On the other hand, Assonance is a bit more or less like the opposite of alliteration. The vowel sounds mentioned or repeated can be found either in the middle, beginning, or at the end of the word or words in mention.

The third sibling of the alliteration is what is called Consonance. As previously discussed, Consonant sounds happen when a speech sound is uttered, but this is achieved by limiting the breath or rather a partial closing of the vocal tract.

Moreover, these three literary devices may be used by a speaker or even writer either individually or collectively.

Comparing alliteration assonance, and consonance

How to Write Alliteration

First of all, people always misuse alliteration or don’t even know how to write it in the first place. But that’s clearly nothing to worry about, as below are the ways to guide you on writing alliteration.

1) The first question you should ask yourself is, “Do I have a subject I would want to emphasize”? If the answer is Yes, then you are clearly on track.

2) Secondly, the next line of action would be to visualize the words you want to say, and if it relates to the subject. After that, you now proceed with the same sound.

3) This is the last line of action, and this means you should then place the words following each other in a sentence.

Now, having explained how to write alliteration, it is best to back it up with a couple of examples.

Normal sentence 1:

This place is good! They have comfortable T-shirts that are made of quality material, and they also have eye-catching styles to keep their customers on their toes. 

Now, what the writer is trying to convey here is how this store sells quality shirts that are pleasant to the eyes. This is just an ordinary sentence, so there is no form of alliteration in it. However, should the writer decide to inculcate alliteration on that normal sentence, he or she would need to begin with words that start with the subject matter.

Sentence with Alliteration #1: 

Cameron clay’s closet sells comfortable clothes that, when worn, appear catchy. 

With this sentence above, if you look through it properly, you can tell that the store name appears catchy as a result of the alliteration. Now, to explain further, let’s look at another example to aid the cause.

Normal sentence 2: 

This house is beautiful! The interior design is breath-taking, and the compound is so spacious. Any visitor who visits this place would certainly say something positive about this house.

Sentence with Alliteration 2: 

Isaac’s interior design is indeed beautiful! The compound is simply spacious for intending visitors.

Now, if you read through, Isaac is followed by interior then indeed. This means the “I” words are emphasized here.

When to Use Alliteration

The first thing to know about alliteration is that it can fit in a lot of areas. However, the main purpose of alliteration is to emphasize a subject. When used in either a speech, an advertisement, or even a poem, it is quite obvious to spot where alliteration is used as if you read between the lines; you would hear a repeated sound or sounds.

Alliteration is often used in either children’s poetry, nursery rhymes for the sole aim of giving it rhythm with a peculiar sound to add to it.

Additionally, when used, alliteration can go further to create a mood or a buzz around. Even though it is used to give speeches, the essence is not to appear serious but rather to be considered a bit playful.

Also, even though people do enjoy alliteration, it is important to abstain from using it to draft research papers or anything that has to do with formal writing.

Examples in the Literature

There are lots of poets or plays in which alliteration was used. But, we wouldn’t want to keep listing as the list remains endless. However, below are a few poems or plays where alliteration was used.

Authors and poets who use alliteration
From left to right: William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats.

1) William Shakespeare‘s play, Romeo and Juliet. The alliteration can be noticed on the lines “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

2) The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. The alliteration can be noticed on the lines “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.”

3) Robert Frost’s poem Acquainted with the night. Alliteration can be noticed on the lines “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.”

4) The lake isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats. Alliteration can be noticed on the lines “I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.”

Examples of Rhymes Where Alliteration Was Used

There are lots of amazing nursery rhymes where alliteration is used to the maximum. So to list all would almost be impossible to achieve. However, below are a few of them.

1) The first is Three Grey Geese by Mother Goose. According to the nursery rhymes, alliteration was being used: “Three grey geese in a green field grazing. Grey were the geese and green was the grazing.”

2) The second one is “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?“.

3) Third one “Black sheep black sheep have you any wool? Yes sir yes sir three bags full. One for the master, one for the dame…

4) The Fourth one is “Mary had a little lamb little lamb little lamb. Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow…”

Again, if you read through these nursery rhymes, it is quite easy to spot the alliteration. Also, if you recall, we did mention that it isn’t to be used in formal writing, and this nursery rhyme just best illustrates the effectiveness of alliteration.

Alliteration in Prose

Now, for example, if a writer wants to evoke a feeling, or better still, tenderly express a sentiment, the first thing that would come to his or her mind is alliteration.

The writer would know best that they can transmit such a message to the reader in a less hostile way by using alliteration. Below are some of the examples where alliteration was effectively used.

  • The old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway

If you read between the lines, you would get to find out how Ernest made frequent use of the “s” words in this sentence: “But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

If you read between the lines, you would get to find out how F. Scott Fitzgerald used the “b” words in “F” in a repetitive pattern. According to him, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

  • Dorie Thurston- Thank you for the Thistle 

If you read between the lines, you would find out how Dorie Thurston used “g” and “t” in a repetitive sequence. According to Dorie, “Gee, Great Aunt Nellie, why aren’t any golden goldfinches going to thegoodies?” “Oh,” said Aunt Nellie, “They thrive on thistle and I thoroughly thought that I threw the thistle out there.” 

  • Maya Angelou- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Again, if you read between the lines, you would get to find out how Maya Angelou used “S” in the phrase. According to Maya, “Up the aisle, the moans and screams merged with the sickening smell of woolen black clothes worn in summer weather and green leaves wilting over yellow flowers.” 

Exciting Activities To Teach Rhyming And Alliteration For Kids 

This section is specifically written for kids to help them be able to know how to incorporate rhyming and alliteration in a phrase or a sentence. This invariably would help them reinforce what they are taught. Below are some of the few ideas with activities that the kids can try out in school or at home.

  • The Zoo rhyme

Here, in order to teach the kids or for them to better understand alliteration, you can tell them to conjure up names for the animals with alliteration in it. A good example is ” Cassie the Cat,” “Lewis the Lion,” or ” Stacey the Snake.” Moreover, you can try taking it a step further by allowing the kids to dress up as their animals for any zoo party around your area.

  • A Bag Full Of Surprises

To better enhance the children’s understanding of how to use alliteration, why not write down a list of words (plastic, shapes, names of countries) and put them in a paper bag. After that, have them select what’s inside the bag, that is after which it has gone round the class. Once achieved, they have to rhyme with whatever word being selected.

  • Alliteration Picnic

This is something the kids would appreciate as you could decide to have a picnic with various names of the food items written at the side of each meal being served. A good example is French fries, Baked beans, Tasty tomatoes, and a couple of other names. After that, you can use your Alliteration snacks to create a song about why they sing along. That way, the names could stick.

  • Transition Activity

What is expected here is to bring out each kid to the front of the class and reward the one that gets the rhyming and alliteration together. Better still, you can make them fill in the blanks.

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So, What Next?

There have been several influencers and motivational speakers who have indeed made sentences that include alliteration.

As you recall, the whole essence of alliteration is to better pass out a subject without getting all official or too serious. When it is done to perfection, the reader or the listener can better have a clear understanding of what is being portrayed or rather said.

Furthermore, if you have been reading through the article, you should know by now that alliteration does indeed have two other siblings, namely (Assonance and Consonance). As a writer or speaker, you can choose to use each individually or collectively if you decide to. Moreover, it all borders on how you choose to use them in a context.

Wrapping It Up

In this article, we have discussed the founder of alliteration, whose name is Giovanni Pontano, an Italian. Also, in the early stages, we talked about how alliteration was fervently used in the first to the third century.

Additionally, we have given a comprehensive explanation of how to write alliteration with multiple examples to back the claim. If you have studied through each example, you will get to understand how best to drive through a point with the use of alliteration.

Furthermore, in this article, we have clearly discussed when to use alliteration and also given examples of how alliteration can be used in rhymes and again in literature. Even we have gone as far as using activities as examples to explain alliteration for kids better.

Lastly, scholars, kids, and the general public can best know how to use alliteration to give out a speech or even compose one. Again, it is best to emphasize that the fact that you may finally know how to write or give out alliteration in a sentence doesn’t mean you have to put it in formal writing. This should entirely be avoided as it is totally unacceptable to do such.

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5 thoughts on “What Is Alliteration? Definition, History, and Examples”

  1. Alliteration is my favorite poetry device. I am always fascinated by the use of alliteration in the English literature. Great article!

    Reply
  2. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
    This is a typical example I have heard a lot. It reminds me of my high school teacher.

    Reply

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