Alliteration and her sisters


Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. (rock not included)

We all know that one, don’t we. Though I usually get rugged and ragged back to front. I have to remind myself that whilst a rascal can be rugged or ragged, a rock can pretty much only be rugged.

As we learned in junior school, alliteration is putting together words with the same initial letter. In the case of the above phrase, R, the pirate’s favourite letter.

This can be a useful literary device when writing, and like most literary devices, it is used to make the reader feel, view or interpret your writing in a particular way by creating a mood or appearance. But use it sparingly. The problem with any literary device, is that all too easily it can draw attention away from what you’re writing and turn the focus on itself, distracting your reader from you’re story in the same way you can sometimes fail to see the puppet-show because you’re focusing on the strings.

Sibilance is the repeated use of an S sound, or a hissing sound. You put together words with lots of s, sh and soft c sounds: Sid’s silly scented snake slithered smoothly across the shiny façade. Unlike with Alliteration, the repeated sounds don’t have to be confined to the beginning of the word.

Assonance is the repeated use of vowel sounds: cut jug, heed beat,   or the same or similar consonants with different vowels: jiggle juggle, dilly-dally.

Consonance is the repetition of matching consonant sounds: ruthless cutthroats, repeated reports. It can quickly descend into Alliteration if only the initial letter(s) are repeated!

These can all be useful for creating a certain mood, or an attitude, or making the reader see a character or setting in a particular way. It can also imbue your writing with a poetic or lyrical quality. In fact most poetry contains some or more than one of these devices. Think of Wordworth’s I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, with all the repeated Ls, the Hs, the Ds, the long vowels of wandered, lonely and cloud.

It can also have a unifying effect, making all parts fit together with a repetition of shared letters and sounds. But like all good things, in prose it needs to be used in moderation.


4 thoughts on “Alliteration and her sisters

  1. Good little article for novices but so hard to read the light grey on dark grey I almost gave up on it.

    • Hi Lindsey – sorry you had trouble reading the post; it’s actually white on black, but I’ll try to make the font a little bigger next time.

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