Writing
Writing Glossary

What is Alliteration? The Art of Playing With Words

May 12, 2023 by

Have you ever heard a phrase or sentence that seemed to just roll off the tongue, with a rhythm and musical quality that made it stick in your mind?

Chances are, that phrase was using the literary device of alliteration. In this article, we’ll explore the art of playing with words through alliteration, including a definition, examples, and tips for using it effectively in your writing.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What is Alliteration?

Alliteration is a literary device used in writing to improve its richness. Alliteration is commonly defined as the repetition of consonant sounds at the start of words in a sequence or a line. 

Example: Keep the closet clean, Kyle. 

In the example above, you can see that it is not important that each word starts with the same letter K or C for it to be in alliteration. 

Poets, novelists, and other writers all use literary devices to improve the sound of their writing.

Alliteration is one of those literary devices that are most commonly used to enhance mood and rhythm, and can even make your words memorable. 

According to William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, good writing is in how the words sound together: “Bear in mind, when you are choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound.”

Alliteration is about sound and not about the repetition of the actual letter in each word. As the letters ‘K’ and ‘C’ give the same ‘kuh’ sound in the example above, we can say that the sentence is an alliteration. 

Other examples of alliterative phrases and sentences are:

  • Hit the hay
  • Sally sells seashells by the seashore
  • Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart. (Shakespeare —  Romeo and Juliet)
  • Misty mountains
  • Severus Snape, headmaster of the Slytherins.

How to Pronounce Alliteration?

Merriam Webster’s pronunciation of alliteration

uh·li·tr·ay·shn

alliteration pronunciation

When to Use Alliteration?

Alliteration is used in a variety of writing styles and forms. From poetry to fictional prose to non-fictional writing, speeches, and even advertisements and business writing. 

The purpose of alliteration is to draw the reader’s attention to a specific set of words or phrases within the overall construction of the sentence, line, or paragraph. 

Usually, the most important information is embedded there, and therefore, the writer uses the alliterative technique to draw our attention to it. Take a look at the use of alliteration in Martin Luther King’s speech: 

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.

The words ‘color’, ‘content’, and ‘character’ are in alliteration and the most important part of that sentence. 

alliteration example

As alliteration acts as a sort of signpost for new and important information, it would, therefore, follow that alliteration should be used sparingly. Otherwise, the writer using too much alliteration in sentences runs the risk of sounding immature. 

Why is it Called Alliteration?

An alliteration is a form of consonance, but where consonance is about the use of the consonant letters and sounds, irrespective of their position in the word, alliteration is about using consonant sounds specifically at the beginning of words.

The word alliteration comes from the Latin latira, meaning ‘the letters of the alphabet.’ 

Why Should You Use Alliteration?

Alliteration is used for a variety of reasons depending on your writing genre. 

Alliterative turns of phrases are catchy, rhyming, and vivid. Children’s nursery rhymes are full of tongue-twisting alliterations. Consider the following examples of nursery rhymes:

  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. 
  • Betty Botter bought some butter

In business, companies choose their names based on how they sound, and usually, in these cases, you can see the use of alliteration. Also, an alliterative name can be easily remembered, and it’s catchy. 

Consider the names of some of the famous brands:

  • CocaCola
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • PayPal
  • Kimberly-Clark Corporation
coca cola alliteration example
alliteration used in “Coca-Cola”

Another common use for alliteration is for emphasis. You would want certain portions or phrases of your sentences to stand out. 

Therefore, you need to incorporate alliteration to make those parts pop in the way that they sound. 

How Do You Use Alliteration?

To use alliteration in a sentence, think about the list of words or ideas you would like to be emphasized.

The words that you put to paper on the first try will not be alliterative at all. And that’s okay. 

You should be done with your first draft and only later should you think about adding alliterations. 

That’s where a thesaurus will come in handy. After a little searching, you should be able to find words that begin with the same consonant sound. Now, you have to put them together in a sentence. 

For example, if I want to write a tagline for a Mexican restaurant, I might say something like:

A memorable Mexican meal in the macho Mexican style. 

What are Examples of Alliteration?

There are many examples of alliteration in literary poems and novels, business writing, and advertisements. Here we will take a look at a few. 

1. Alliteration in Poems

Alliteration in poems is quite common. It is used for rhyming purposes and is set according to the poem pent ii

Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved (John Milton — A Paradise Lost)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore — 
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping (Edgar Allan Poe — The Raven)

2. Alliteration in Cinema

Movie titles and characters are deliberately made alliterative to make them memorable. Marty McFly from Back to the Future is an example of an alliterative character name. There are so many other characters that one can think of that are in alliteration:

  • Mickey Mouse
  • Donnie Darko
  • Willy Wonka
  • King Kong 

etc. etc. etc. 

Examples of movie titles in alliteration are as follows:

  • Boss Baby
  • Freaky Fridays
  • Rat Race
  • War of the Worlds

3. Alliteration in Writing

“…grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square… a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules… flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square…”

 — To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“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 Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

To further explore how to use alliteration, we also recommend this video by Eric Buffington:

Final Remarks

Alliteration is an extremely useful literary device that when used cleverly can make for memorable passages, endearing character names, and creative writing. 

It is used most commonly to bring attention to certain phrases or passages so that with the help of the repetitive sound and rhythm, the message can easily latch onto our memory. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the simple definition of alliteration?

Alliteration is a literary device in which a series of words in a sentence have the same beginning sound. This repetition of sounds can create a pleasing rhythm or musical quality in the language.

Does alliteration mean to rhyme?

No, alliteration does not necessarily mean rhyme. While both literary devices involve the repetition of sounds, rhyme specifically refers to the repetition of ending sounds in words, whereas alliteration refers to the repetition of beginning sounds.

Can alliteration be between two words?

Yes, alliteration can occur between two words in a sentence. As long as those two words begin with the same sound, they can be considered an example of alliteration.

Is an alliteration 2 or 3 words?

An alliteration can involve two or more words in a sentence, as long as those words begin with the same sound. The number of words involved in an alliteration can vary depending on the writer’s intention and the specific sentence structure.