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."

Example Sentences

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 Weinersmith has successfully captured the spirit of this timeless story, weaving in generous amounts of alliteration and his version of Old English kennings, a compound figure of speech that replaces a common noun with two or more words that make for a more figurative than literal description. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 14 Apr. 2023 Everyone loves a little alliteration. Tom Schad, USA TODAY, 4 July 2020 The dialogue snaps with playful alliteration, repetition and puns, even rhymes that punch up lines rather than overpower them. Maya Phillips, New York Times, 26 Feb. 2023 One favorite device was alliteration. Daniel Mendelsohn, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2022 Because alliteration is fun. Erik Kain, Forbes, 3 Aug. 2022 Tennessee Titans definitely has alliteration. Stephanie Stradley, Houston Chronicle, 16 Oct. 2020 Taken in more or less in a fell swoop, the breadth of it all was, for lack of a more original alliteration, beyond belief. Chris Willman, Variety, 23 Feb. 2023 Old English poetry takes its shape from its metrical patterns and the alliteration of stressed syllables. Irina Dumitrescu, The New York Review of Books, 17 Nov. 2020 See More

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


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.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


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)
alliteratively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on alliteration

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