An Introduction to Alliteration

Alliteration is a stylistic device in prosodyOpens in new window, which creates a repetition of initial stressed consonant sound in a series of multiple words within a phraseOpens in new window or poetic verseOpens in new window or line.

Alliteration narrowly refers to the repetition of a letter in any syllablesOpens in new window that, according to the poem's metreOpens in new window, are stressed. The following are examples:

  • “Come…dragging the lazy languid line along”. James Thomsond  Opens in new window
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”.
  • Don't delay dawns disarming display. Dusk demands daylight.
  • — Paul Mccan
  • Sara's seven sisters slept soundly in sand.

As a poetic device, alliteration is often discussed with assonanceOpens in new window and consonance. ConsonanceOpens in new window is a broader literary device identified by the repetition of consonant sounds at any point in a word (e.g. coming home, hot foot). Alliteration is a special case of consonance where the repeated consonant sound is in the stressed syllable.

Alliteration may be observed in a number of common phrases, such as “pretty as a picture” and “dead as a doornail,” and is a common poetic device in most languages. In its simplest form, it reinforces one or two consonantal sounds, as in William ShakespeareOpens in new window’s line:

  1. When I do count the clock that tells the time

    — (Sonnet XII)

A more complex pattern of alliteration is created when consonants both at the beginning of words and at the beginning of stressed syllables within words are repeated, as in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s line:

  1. The City’s voice itself is soft like Solitude’s

    — (“Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples”)

There is one specialised form of alliteration called symmetrical alliteration. That is, alliteration containing parallelismOpens in new window. In this form, the phrase must have a pair of outside end words both starting with the same sound, and pairs of outside words also starting with matching sounds as one moves progressively closer to the centre. Following are examples:

  • “rust brown blazers rule,”
  • “purely and fundamentally for analytical purposes”
  • or “fluoro colour co-ordination forever”.

Symmetrical alliteration is similar to palindromeOpens in new window in its use of symmetry.

Alliteration in Speeches of Iconic Characters

  1. “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, Jr.

  2. “We, 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.

  3. “And our nation itself is testimony to the love our veterans have had for it and for us. All for which America stands is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front.”

    Ronald Reagan, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Address.

  4. 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, Gettysburg Address.

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