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What Is the Difference Between Alliteration and Consonance?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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Alliteration and consonance are related ideas, with the primary difference between them that consonance is a specific type of alliteration. Alliteration refers to the repetition of sounds between two or more sequential words in a particular line of poetry or sentence in prose which creates an association between these words and creates a pleasing pattern of sounds. There are basically two types of alliteration in English: assonance and consonance. Though both alliteration and consonance refer to repeated sounds between words, alliteration can refer to either vowel or consonant sounds usually found at the beginning of each word, and consonance refers specifically to repetition in consonant sounds that is often found in the middle or at the end of each word.

Both alliteration and consonance are poetic or linguistic devices often used by writers to give a written work a particular rhythm or structure, and to make works more pleasing to the ear when read aloud. These devices are often used by poets and writers of children’s stories, as their effect when read aloud is an almost song-like quality. The difference between these two devices is quite simple, and basically comes down to what type of sound is repeated between the words, though the position of the sound can be used to distinguish them as well.

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In writing, alliteration refers to any type of repeated sound between two or more words in a particular passage. This is usually found at the beginning of a word, though that is not always the case, and can be clearly seen in a line like “hobbled and humbled, the hound dog hung his head and hunched on home” where the “h” sound is repeated among numerous words. In this usage, the repetition gives the line a natural rhythm that pulls the reader forward through the line.

Consonance is basically a particular form of alliteration in which the repeated sound is a consonant. Further differentiation between alliteration and consonance can come from establishing that alliteration refers to repeated sounds at the beginning of each word, while consonance refers to repeated consonant sounds in the middle or end of the words. This is not an absolute rule, but is accepted as one general way to separate the two ideas. An example of consonance would be “the bright scent of mint,” as the “t” sound is repeated at the end of each word.

Along with alliteration and consonance there is a third form of repetition among words, which is assonance. Assonance is another type of alliteration and is basically the same as consonance, except with repeated vowel sounds in the middle and end of sequential words. “My eye for a pie” is an example of assonance, as the “I” sound is repeated in each word, which also creates a rhyme.

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MrsPramm
Post 3

@irontoenail - I guess I just don't pay that much attention to either alliteration or consonance unless I'm doing an analysis for school or something like that. When I'm writing or reading poetry, some things just sound good and some things don't. Some things are easy to say and roll off the tongue and others are not and that can be used as a technique as well.

I worried a little bit about this kind of thing, but I eventually realized that I was basically putting consonance in my poetry without trying, just by rearranging words until they sounded right. Which is the best way to do it, in my opinion. Don't worry about what a critique might say. Just worry about making it sound right to your own ears.

irontoenail
Post 2

@browncoat - It can be though. Consonance in poetry is difficult to get right because if you place it the wrong way it can make people stumble over the sentence. If they are having to pronounce a t sound with every word, for example, they will often hesitate and slow down which might not be the intended effect.

Alliteration doesn't affect the way people say words as much, because the endings of the words are rarely similar.

browncoat
Post 1

I've noticed that a lot of people like to comment on consonance when they are critiquing poetry, as though alliteration was almost beneath their notice. I suspect this is because they learned alliteration in school but I don't remember ever being given consonance examples.

So it appears to be the more sophisticated, subtle technique, but I don't believe it is necessarily.

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