Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of alliteration?

The definition of alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words.

Alliteration

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Last Updated on June 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227

Alliteration is created by repeating the initial letter or sound of two or more neighboring words. Alliteration can add emphasis, create rhythm, or influence the mood of a text.

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Alliteration can overlap with consonance and assonance, but the three devices are distinct in definition: 

  • Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound in neighboring words. 
  • Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound in neighboring words.

Alliteration is derived from the Latin words ad, meaning “to,” and litera, meaning “letter” or “script.”

Many children’s rhymes and tongue twisters employ alliteration to create a humorous effect, such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” It is also used in many idioms, such as “dead as a doornail.”

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Edgar Allan Poe uses alliteration in his poem “The Raven,” where it strengthens the poem’s rhythm and builds suspense:

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Latest answer posted September 22, 2008, 5:29 am (UTC)

2 educator answers

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping

(lines 1–3)

Another example of alliteration is found in Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire,” where it focuses attention on critical moments in the man’s quest for survival:

He stripped the mitten from his right hand and fetched forth the birch bark. The exposed fingers were quickly going numb again.

see: assonance, consonance, idiom

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