AskDefine | Define alliteration

Dictionary Definition

alliteration n : use of the same consonant at the beginning of each stressed syllable in a line of verse; "around the rock the ragged rascal ran" [syn: initial rhyme, beginning rhyme, head rhyme]

User Contributed Dictionary



ad + litera letter.



  1. The repetition of consonants at the beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding each other, or at short intervals; as in the following lines: -
    Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved His vastness. -Milton.
    Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields. -Tennyson.

Usage notes

The recurrence of the same letter in accented parts of words is also called alliteration. Anglo-Saxon poetry is characterized by alliterative meter of this sort. Later poets also employed it.
In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne, I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were. -P. Plowman.


  • Croatian: aliteracija
  • Finnish: alkusointu

Extensive Definition

Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant sound in a phrase. A common example in English is "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers". Alliteration can take the form of assonance, the repetition of a vowel, or consonance, the repetition of a consonant; however, unlike a strict definition of alliteration, both assonance and consonance can regularly occur within words as opposed to being limited to the word's initial sound. Some critics hold the opinion that the term "alliteration" applies just as accurately to phonetic repetitions that occur elsewhere than the first position (first letter), sometimes falling on later syllables, yet retaining alliterative properties due to the form of the example's meter, which, through affecting the syllables' stress may mimic the intensity of the initial. Further, the use of differing consonants of similar properties (labials, dentals, etc.) is sometimes considered to be alliteration. Similarly, phrases such as "Apt alliteration's artful aid" still seems to retain the efficacy of alliteration despite the unique pronunciation of the "a" in each word. This has been attributed by the American writer Fred Newton Scott to the sharing of the attribute of a glottal stop (which he terms the "glottal catch") by virtually every vowel in the English language when it is found in the initial position.
The relative formal accessibility of alliteration makes it one of the most commonly used literary tools in English, tracing its origins back to Old English and other Germanic languages such as Old High German, Old Norse, and Old Saxon. Particularly notable examples of early literary alliteration can be found in these languages' poetry, namely alliterative verse. Alliterative verse is a form of poetry that relies heavily on consonance and assonance rather than rhyme. Perhaps the most famous example of Old English alliterative poetry is this passage from the epic Beowulf: "Gan under Gyldnum Beage, þær þa godan twegen".
Another use of alliteration in Old English, outside the literary sphere, is found in personal name giving. Here, a common feature is the repeated use of the same first element in a personal name. This is evidenced by the unbroken series of 9th century kings of Wessex named Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, and Æthelred. These were followed in the 10th century by their direct descendants Æthelstan and Æthelred II, who ruled as kings of England. The Anglo-Saxon saints Tancred, Torhtred and Tova provide a similar example, among siblings.
As testament to the pervasive use of alliteration in English poetry, it is commonly tabulated and statistically analyzed, and has even for example been mapped in a Thomas Churchyard poem in order to correctly date it in relation to his other works. Statistics can also fuel debates on author’s alliterative motive, in attempts to determine if the alliterations that critics find were included by chance or by the author’s volition. One such study of 100 Shakespearian sonnets concluded that the author “might as well have drawn his words out of a hat”, and provoked other critics' defense of the questioned alliteration.
Books aimed at young readers often use alliteration, as it consistently captures children's interest.
Alliteration survives most obviously in modern English in magazine article titles, advertisements and business names, comic strip or cartoon characters, and common expressions:
  • Magazine articles: “Science has Spoiled my Supper” and “Too Much Talent in Tennessee?”
  • Comic/cartoon characters: Beetle Bailey, Donald Duck
  • Restaurants: Coffee Corner, Sushi Station
  • Expressions: busy as a bee, dead as a doornail, good as gold, right as rain, etc...
  • Music: Blackalicious' "Alphabet Aerobics" focuses on the uses of alliteration in rhyme
However, it still seems to maintain an important, though perhaps more subtle, part in modern English poetry.


alliteration in Bulgarian: Алитерация
alliteration in Catalan: Al·literació
alliteration in Czech: Aliterace
alliteration in German: Alliteration
alliteration in Estonian: Alliteratsioon
alliteration in Spanish: Aliteración
alliteration in French: Allitération
alliteration in Western Frisian: Alliteraasje
alliteration in Galician: Aliteración
alliteration in Croatian: Aliteracija
alliteration in Ido: Aliteraco
alliteration in Indonesian: Aliterasi
alliteration in Italian: Allitterazione
alliteration in Hebrew: אליטרציה
alliteration in Javanese: Purwakanthi
alliteration in Dutch: Beginrijm
alliteration in Japanese: 頭韻法
alliteration in Norwegian: Allitterasjon
alliteration in Norwegian Nynorsk: Bokstavrim
alliteration in Occitan (post 1500): Alliteracion
alliteration in Uzbek: Alliteratsiya
alliteration in Polish: Aliteracja
alliteration in Portuguese: Aliteração
alliteration in Romanian: Aliteraţie
alliteration in Russian: Аллитерация
alliteration in Simple English: Alliteration
alliteration in Slovak: Aliterácia
alliteration in Finnish: Alkusointu
alliteration in Swedish: Allitteration
alliteration in Tagalog: Aliterasyon
alliteration in Ukrainian: Алітерація
9. Dorie Books, Thank You for the Thistle, by Dorie Thurston

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

assonance, blank verse, chime, clink, consonance, crambo, dingdong, double rhyme, drone, eye rhyme, harping, humdrum, jingle, jingle-jangle, monotone, monotony, near rhyme, paronomasia, pitter-patter, pun, repeated sounds, repetitiousness, repetitiveness, rhyme, rhyme royal, rhyme scheme, rhyming dictionary, single rhyme, singsong, slant rhyme, stale repetition, tail rhyme, tedium, trot, unnecessary repetition, unrhymed poetry
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