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Examples of Alliteration in Literature

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  • 0:00 What Is Alliteration?
  • 1:15 Alliteration in…
  • 3:12 Alliteration in Song
  • 3:55 Alliteration for Children
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret English

Meg has taught language arts in middle school, high school and college. She has a doctorate in Educational leadership

Explore alliteration and learn how it is used throughout different styles of literature. Discover the power behind this simple literary device, and recognize how to easily identify its use across multiple literary genres.

What Is Alliteration?

A popular literary device, alliteration is used across all genres of literature. The word alliteration comes from the Latin word littera, meaning 'letter.' It is specifically characterized by the repetition of similar sounds at the start of words that appear close together.

For example, the phrase 'many moons' is considered alliterative, while the phrase 'silver Shetland' is not.

Although the letter 's' in the second example is repeated, it doesn't represent the same sound across both words, while the 'm' sound in 'many' and 'moons' does. In fact, you've probably been using alliteration all of your life without even knowing it! Have you ever tried to master a tongue twister? Tongue twisters are excellent examples of alliteration. Here's a favorite:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

As we continue this lesson, you will soon see that most of the alliteration that appears in literature is much easier on your poor tongue than Peter Piper!

Alliteration in Poetry, Prose, Drama

Alliteration in poetry is extremely popular and can be seen in everything from the simplest of poems to the most complex. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet, provides this example from his 1798 poem entitled 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:'

The fair breeze blew,
The white foam flew,
And the forrow followed free.
We were the first to ever burst into the silent sea.

Can you hear the repetition of the sounds in 'breeze blew,' 'foam flew,' and 'forrow followed free?' Not to mention the sounds of 'silent sea?'

Not to be outdone by poetry, prose also captures many shining examples of alliteration. The classic Moby Dick by Herman Melville offers a compelling example of this literary device. These lines are spoken by Ishmael, the novel's first person narrator:

. . . neither of those can feel stranger and stronger emotions than that man does, who for the first time finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the hunted sperm whale.

In this example, Melville not only enhances the sound of the words, but he uses alliteration with the words 'charmed' and 'churned' to create a sense of heightened tension as the narrator experiences his first ride on a whaleboat so close to the massive whale. Alliteration is also skillfully used here to further develop Ishmael's character.

To find alliteration in drama, you don't need to look too hard or too long. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the three witches convene at the very beginning of the play. Together, they chant these words:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

In this instance, Shakespeare's use of alliteration establishes not just the physical setting of the play, but also foreshadows darker events to come.

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