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

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 Examples include identifying words that rhyme, recognizing alliteration, breaking a sentence into words and detecting syllables in a word. Bob Sandrick, cleveland, 28 June 2022 His words caught fire, roared, ready to move people in unison with the memorable lilt of meter and alliteration. Susan J. Wolfson, The Atlantic, 18 June 2022 Again, Ram kills it in the alliteration department, calling the events the Ram Real Talk Tour. Eric Stafford, Car and Driver, 8 Feb. 2022 And in early 2022, cronuts, but that’s just to fortify the alliteration. Amy Drew Thompson, orlandosentinel.com, 9 Dec. 2021 Stunning illustrations, fun alliteration, a fantastic vocabulary, and shout-it-out repetition make this a favorite. Tegan Tigani, The Christian Science Monitor, 1 Dec. 2021 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, 1 Apr. 2021 Ulman loves language play, especially alliteration and active verbs. Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News, 6 Mar. 2021 Like most of his work, this poem was meant to be read aloud, using colloquialisms, wordplay, alliteration. Los Angeles Times, 23 Feb. 2021 See More

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.

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).

Buying Guide

Check out the 11 best games for word lovers from our Reviews team.

Learn More About alliteration

Time Traveler for alliteration

Time Traveler

The first known use of alliteration was circa 1624

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near alliteration

alliterate

alliteration

alliterational

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for alliteration

Last Updated

4 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Alliteration.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alliteration. Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for alliteration

alliteration

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

Kids Definition of alliteration

: the repetition of a sound at the beginning of two or more neighboring words (as in a babbling brook)

More from Merriam-Webster on alliteration

Nglish: Translation of alliteration for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about alliteration

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!