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 How Gina Seebachan kept her business, the Be With Me Playseum, open during the coronavirus pandemic can be summarized in an alliteration: faith, family, and frugality. David Hogberg, Washington Examiner, "How the book and toy store Playseum survived the pandemic," 1 Apr. 2021 Ulman loves language play, especially alliteration and active verbs. Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News, "Seward author’s debut novel sings of a year in a small seaside Alaska town," 6 Mar. 2021 Like most of his work, this poem was meant to be read aloud, using colloquialisms, wordplay, alliteration. Los Angeles Times, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and titan of the Beat era, dies at 101," 23 Feb. 2021 Joshua Bennett, an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College, praised Gorman’s ear for internal rhyme and alliteration. Malcolm Gay, BostonGlobe.com, "Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman ‘has always been an absolute supernova’," 22 Jan. 2021 The cameras stayed focused largely on the speakers and the speeches, including a young poet whose words tied together a teeming multitude of ideas and themes with the sinews of inner rhyme, alliteration and associative images. Washington Post, "As Trump slips out of town, Biden repurposes old symbols for new life," 20 Jan. 2021 There’s been a ton of success with this program before that but with this latest alliteration of what UCF is, those guys are as big a part of it as anyone. Matt Murschel, orlandosentinel.com, "UCF RB Greg McCrae hopes to be remembered for his work ethic," 16 Nov. 2020 And his nickname, then, was nothing more than an alliteration between the words in Spanish for butcher (carnicero) and song (canción). Eduardo Halfon, The New York Review of Books, "Canción," 9 Nov. 2020 Maybe use some alliteration and call it Paramount Pro or Paramount Premium? Angela Watercutter, Wired, "Streaming Services Are Abusing the + Sign and It Must End," 18 Sep. 2020

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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Time Traveler for alliteration

Time Traveler

The first known use of alliteration was circa 1624

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Statistics for alliteration

Last Updated

11 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Alliteration.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alliteration. Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for alliteration

alliteration

noun

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)

More from Merriam-Webster on alliteration

Nglish: Translation of alliteration for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about alliteration

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