alliteration

noun

al·​lit·​er·​a·​tion ə-ˌli-tə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce alliteration (audio)
: the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables (such as wild and woolly, threatening throngs)

called also head rhyme, initial rhyme

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What is alliteration?

In alliteration, consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables are repeated. The repeated sounds are usually the first, or initial, sounds—as in "seven sisters"—but repetition of sounds in non-initial stressed, or accented, syllables is also common: "appear and report." Alliteration is a common feature in poetry, but it is also found in songs and raps and speeches and other kinds of writing, as well as in frequently used phrases, such as "pretty as a picture" and "dead as a doornail."

Alliteration can in its simplest form reinforce one or two consonant sounds, as in this line from William Shakespeare's "Sonnet XII":

When I do count the clock that tells the time

A more complex pattern of alliteration can be created when consonants both at the beginning of words and at the beginning of stressed syllables within words are repeated, as in the following line from Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples":

The City's voice itself is soft like Solitude's

As a poetic device, alliteration is often discussed with assonance, the repetition of stressed vowel sounds within two or more words with different end consonants, as in "stony" and "holy"; and consonance, the repetition of end or medial consonants, as in "stroke" and "luck."

Examples of alliteration in a Sentence

As far as sound repetition goes, I don't have any principles. I try to stay away from heavy alliteration and other pyrotechnics because I think they detract from the sense of the poem and blur the imagery. Maxine Kumin, "A Questionnaire," 1977, in To Make a Prairie1979
More specifically, how are actual events deformed by the application to them of metaphor, rhetorical comparison, prose rhythm, assonance, alliteration, allusion, and sentence structures and connectives implying clear causality? Paul Fussel, The Great War and Modern Memory, 1975
Recent Examples on the Web The great director’s preference for the Hollywood city of lights over the French one expresses a common enough affinity for illusion over reality, but the studio in question was not chosen for alliteration alone. Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 29 Feb. 2024 There were many alliterations that aren’t in your face. Brian Davids, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Feb. 2024 And among the early reading and writing skills that the series incorporates over the course of 20 episodes will be letter-sound identification and decoding words, blending sounds, alliteration, spelling and punctuation. Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times, 20 Sep. 2023 The name completes the alliteration of the rest of the family’s name: A$AP Rocky (né Rakim Athelaston Mayers), Rihanna (née Robyn Rihanna Fenty), and older brother RZA Athelston Mayers. Kyle Denis, Billboard, 8 Sep. 2023 See all Example Sentences for alliteration 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'alliteration.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from New Latin allīterātiōn-, allīterātiō, from Latin ad- ad- + lītera "letter" + -ātiōn-, -ātiō -ation — more at letter entry 1

Note: Word apparently coined by the Italian humanist Giovanni Pontano (ca. 1426-1503) in the dialogue Actius (written 1495-99, first printed 1507).

First Known Use

circa 1624, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of alliteration was circa 1624

Dictionary Entries Near alliteration

Cite this Entry

“Alliteration.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alliteration. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

alliteration

noun
al·​lit·​er·​a·​tion ə-ˌlit-ə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce alliteration (audio)
: the repetition of a sound at the beginning of two or more neighboring words (as in wild and woolly or a babbling brook)
alliterative
ə-ˈlit-ə-ˌrāt-iv
-rət-
adjective
alliteratively adverb

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