All About Alliteration!

By Sonali Khemka

(English Literature, English Language, LNAT, Psychology tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

AlliterationAlliteration is a literary device that repeats the same sound, usually a consonant, at the start of a series of words or sentences. Though it is frequently used in poetry, it can also be found in prose such as novels or plays. Depending on how alliteration is used in the text, it can have various effects – both on the meaning of the text as well the reader’s experience.

Here are some of the reasons for why alliteration is used:

Create Rhythm

The repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of a series of words can create a rhythm to the text, even if there is no other rhyme or meter. Consider the way the line “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” sounds when you read it out loud. The alliteration creates a rhythm that is hard and fast, carrying the text forward. Alliteration can help set the pace of a piece, speeding it up or slowing it down depending on what sounds are used, how many words are included in the alliterative series, and what other literary devices are used.

Helps You Remember

Was the title of this blog easy to remember? If it was, then you have experienced how alliteration can draw attention to, emphasize and make certain parts of a text more memorable. Alliteration is seldom used throughout the whole poem or piece of prose. When it is used, it typically includes a few words to a sentence. Sometimes, it is used with as little as two words. This helps in drawing the reader’s attention to that particular sentence or phrase.

Many idiomatic expression that we have remembered since our childhood have an alliterative spelling, such as “dull as dirt” or “the bigger the better.” Famous terms that journalists use to grab the reader’s attention are often memorable because of their alliterative effect, such as “baby boomer” and “Romney Romp.” Companies choose alliterative business and brand names so consumers won’t forget them, such as “Google,” “Twitter,” “Burt’s Bees” and “Tater Tots.” Children also remember alliterative phrases easily, so entertainment geared toward them makes creative use of names like “Bob the Builder” and “Mickey Mouse.

Create Mood or Tone

The sound of alliteration can help create the mood or tone of a poem or piece of prose. For example, repetition of the “s” sound often suggests a snake-like quality, implying slyness and danger. Softer sounds like “h” or “l” may create a more introspective or romantic mood or tone. The repetitive sounds in alliteration work with other elements like meter and word choice to create the desired mood or tone.

Deliver Comedic Effect

The use of alliteration creates a lyrical or bouncy quality that can make the text seem bright and cheerful, depending on the content and the other devices used. For this reason, alliteration is often used for comedic effect, especially in children’s works. In Shel Silverstein’s “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” alliteration with different consonant sounds is used throughout the poem with great comedic effect, such as when describing the “gloppy glumps” of oatmeal and the “black burned buttered toast.” This is why author’s are weary of overusing alliteration as too much of it can lighten the mood of a text more than intended. However, for comedic effect, alliteration is often used more abundantly.


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