alliteration

noun
al·​lit·​er·​a·​tion | \ ə-ˌli-tə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce alliteration (audio) \

Definition of alliteration

: 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 fairy even hovers over Harbart’s suicide, and a similar lighter touch informs the prose, enlivened by assonance and alliteration. John Domini, chicagotribune.com, "‘Harbat’: Speaking to the dead, the living — and now Americans, too," 7 Aug. 2019 Each letter in this book features a story in Spanish and an illustration, and alliteration is used as a learning device. BostonGlobe.com, "The Ticket: What’s happening in the local arts world," 28 July 2018 The fairy even hovers over Harbart’s suicide, and a similar lighter touch informs the prose, enlivened by assonance and alliteration. John Domini, chicagotribune.com, "‘Harbat’: Speaking to the dead, the living — and now Americans, too," 7 Aug. 2019 The fairy even hovers over Harbart’s suicide, and a similar lighter touch informs the prose, enlivened by assonance and alliteration. John Domini, Washington Post, "Decades after the raucous ‘Harbart’ became a cult classic in India, a translation finally arrives," 22 July 2019 His calls were filled with energy, passion and punchy phrases, often featuring alliteration, and his demeanor and tone would ebb and flow along with the Blazers’ ups and downs. Joe Freeman, oregonlive.com, "Brian Wheeler will not return to Portland Trail Blazers’ radio," 12 July 2019 And his turns of phrase, his alliteration and all of that just drew me in. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Lyle Lovett, with or without Hazmat suit, set to light up for Fourth of July," 26 June 2019 But the real reason had less to do with alliteration and more to do with the almighty. Shoaib Daniyal, Quartz India, "Haleem or Daleem? WhatsApp university fuels debate over Ramzan delicacy," 4 June 2019 Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar There's a certain three-word alliteration that evokes a strong response in the soccer community: soccer-specific stadium. Kevin Johnston, Indianapolis Star, "Lucas Oil Stadium not perfect home for Indy Eleven, but a big upgrade," 30 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alliteration.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of alliteration

circa 1624, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for alliteration

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).

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Statistics for alliteration

Last Updated

22 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for alliteration

The first known use of alliteration was circa 1624

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More Definitions for alliteration

alliteration

noun
How to pronounce alliteration (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of alliteration

: the use of words that begin with the same sound near one another (as in wild and woolly or a babbling brook)

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More from Merriam-Webster on alliteration

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with alliteration

Spanish Central: Translation of alliteration

Nglish: Translation of alliteration for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about alliteration

Comments on alliteration

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