Understanding the Differences Between Assonance and Alliteration

When diving into the vast ocean of literary devices, two terms often swim to the surface: alliteration and assonance. Both serve as tools for enhancing the auditory appeal of prose and poetry, yet they are …

When diving into the vast ocean of literary devices, two terms often swim to the surface: alliteration and assonance. Both serve as tools for enhancing the auditory appeal of prose and poetry, yet they are distinct entities with different rules and effects. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone looking to refine their literary craftsmanship. In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of alliteration and assonance, examining their definitions, applications, and purposes. This will help you discern when to use each device effectively and appreciate their unique contributions to language.

Alliteration Vs. Assonance

Alliteration and assonance are both stylistic devices that focus on the repetition of sounds to create rhythm, mood, or emphasis in writing. While they are often mentioned together due to their similarities, each has distinct characteristics that set it apart. Alliteration involves the repetition of initial consonant sounds, whereas assonance centers on the repetition of vowel sounds within words. Understanding these differences is fundamental for anyone keen on honing their literary skills.

What is Alliteration?

Alliteration is a stylistic device where the initial consonant sound of words close to each other in a sentence is repeated. This repetition often occurs at the beginning of the words, though sometimes it can also happen at the stressed syllables within the words. Alliteration is widely used to create rhythm, musicality, and emphasis within prose and poetry.

Application in Poetry and Prose

In poetry, alliteration is employed to enhance the meter and musicality of verses. Poets like Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare often used alliteration to set a particular mood and to draw attention to specific themes or images. In prose, authors might use alliteration to emphasize a point, create cohesion in a narrative, or add a layer of aesthetic pleasure to the text. Tongue twisters like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” are classic examples of alliteration in a playful context.

What is Assonance?

Assonance, on the other hand, is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words, often in the middle of the words rather than at the beginning. This device emphasizes the internal sounds of words and is used to create rhythm, mood, and a lyrical quality in written works. Unlike alliteration, which focuses on consonant sounds, assonance relies on vowel sounds to produce its effect.

Application in Poetry and Prose

Similar to alliteration, assonance is extensively used in poetry to create musicality and emotional resonance. Poets might use assonance to bind lines together, produce a sense of cohesion, or evoke particular emotions in the reader. In prose, assonance adds a pleasing rhythm to the text and can subtly influence the tone and mood of a passage. Writers like Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath have utilized assonance to great effect in their work.

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Difference Between Alliteration and Assonance

Meaning of Alliteration Vs. Assonance

The primary difference between alliteration and assonance lies in the type of sound that is repeated. Alliteration repeats initial consonant sounds, making it a powerful tool for emphasizing specific phrases and creating a rhythmic flow. Assonance, in contrast, repeats vowel sounds within or at the ends of words, lending a more subtle, melodic quality to the text.

What is Repeated in Alliteration Vs. in Assonance

To summarize, alliteration repeats the consonant sounds at the beginning or stressed syllables of words, such as in “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” Assonance repeats vowel sounds within the words, as seen in the phrase “The early bird catches the worm,” where the ‘e’ sound is repeated. The key distinction is whether consonants or vowels are the focus of the repetition.

Purpose of Alliteration Vs. Assonance

While both devices enhance the auditory quality of a text, they serve slightly different purposes. Alliteration often aims to create a rhythm that can make passages more memorable and engaging, drawing the reader’s attention to specific sections. Assonance is more about creating a musical quality and a harmonious blend of sounds that can evoke specific emotions or atmospheres. Both can be used to emphasize themes, but their effects on the reader are distinct.

Examples of Alliteration Vs. Assonance

To illustrate the difference, let’s look at some examples.

  • Alliteration:
    • “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge). The repetition of the ‘b’ and ‘f’ sounds creates a melodic quality that complements the imagery.
    • “She sells seashells by the seashore.” The repetition of the ‘s’ sound enhances the tongue-twisting quality and makes the phrase memorable.
  • Assonance:
    • “I rise in the light of the moon” (Langston Hughes). The repetition of the ‘i’ and ‘o’ sounds adds to the sense of serenity and calmness.
    • “The crumbling thunder of seas” (Robert Louis Stevenson). The repeated ‘u’ sound mirrors the ongoing, deep resonance of crashing waves.

Alliteration Vs. Assonance: Comparison Table

Aspect Alliteration Assonance
Definition Repetition of initial consonant sounds Repetition of vowel sounds within words
Focus Consonant sounds Vowel sounds
Example “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”
Purpose Create rhythm, emphasize phrases Produce musicality, evoke emotions


Understanding the differences between alliteration and assonance is essential for enriching your literary toolkit. While both are impressive tools for adding depth and musicality to writing, their distinct focuses and applications ensure that each serves its unique purpose in crafting compelling prose and poetry. By mastering these devices, writers can manipulate rhythm, mood, and emphasis to create more evocative and memorable works.


  • Baldick, Chris. “Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms.” Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman. “A Handbook to Literature.” Prentice Hall, 2011.
  • Perrine, Laurence. “Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry.” Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
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The Historical Development of Alliteration and Assonance

Alliteration and assonance, though commonly recognized today for their uses in poetry and prose, have roots that trace back to the earliest forms of written language, where they served both aesthetic and mnemonic functions.


The use of alliteration dates back to ancient poetry. In epic poems such as those from the Anglo-Saxon period like “Beowulf,” alliteration was a dominant method of constructing verses. Each line was typically divided into two halves, each containing two or three accented syllables, and the initial consonant sound of these syllables had to match. Alliteration served not only as a rhythmic device but also as a means to remember and orally transmit these epic tales before they were ever written down.


Similarly, assonance has historical significance, especially in the context of Romantic and Modernist poetry. Early uses of assonance are found in classical works, with poets using repetitive vowel sounds to invoke emotional responses and to enhance the musical quality of their compositions. It became especially prominent in the works of poets like Edgar Allan Poe, who exploited the sonorous quality of vowel repetitions to create haunting, evocative atmospheres in poems such as “The Raven.”

The development of these literary devices continued to adapt to various cultural and linguistic contexts, influencing not only poetry but also prose, drama, and even contemporary music lyrics. Understanding their historical evolution provides insight into why these techniques remain powerful tools for writers seeking to craft memorable, impactful language.

The Psychological Impact of Alliteration and Assonance on Readers

Both alliteration and assonance hold a significant influence over the reader’s psychological response, enhancing the readability and emotional impact of texts through their auditory effects.


The repetition of initial consonant sounds, such as in the phrase “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” tends to create a hard, rhythmic beat that can quicken the reader’s pulse and focus attention. It is often used to emphasize a particular section of text or to convey particular thematic elements. In marketing, advertisers use alliteration to create catchy, memorable slogans that linger in the consumer’s mind, such as “Coca-Cola” or “Dunkin’ Donuts.”


Through vowel harmony, assonance aids in setting the mood and tone of the work. For instance, the repetition of the ‘o’ sound in “The moaning of doves in immemorial elms” from Tennyson’s “The Princess” infuses the line with a mournful quality. This repeated vowel sound creates a smoother flow that can evoke different emotions depending on the context—melancholy, euphoria, tension, or tranquility.

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Both devices also play a role in enhancing the aesthetic pleasure derived from reading or listening to a piece of writing. Neuroscientific research suggests that the brain’s auditory processing regions are activated when we encounter these patterns, leading to an increased engagement with the text. By tapping into the primal human attraction to rhythmic and sonic patterns, alliteration and assonance deepen the reader’s immersion and connection with the material.


Certainly! Here are five frequently asked questions (FAQs) along with their answers related to the topic “Understanding the Differences Between Assonance and Alliteration”:

FAQ 1: What is Assonance?
Q: What exactly is assonance in literary terms?

A: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within close proximity in a sentence or phrase. It is often used to create internal rhyme within a line of poetry or prose and can enhance the musical quality of the language without the use of repeated consonant sounds.

FAQ 2: How Does Alliteration Differ from Assonance?
Q: How does alliteration differ from assonance?

A: Alliteration refers to the repetition of the initial consonant sounds in words that are close to each other within a sentence or phrase. Unlike assonance, which focuses on vowel sounds within words, alliteration emphasizes the starting consonant sounds, creating a noticeable rhythmic effect.

FAQ 3: Can Assonance and Alliteration Occur Together?
Q: Can assonance and alliteration occur in the same sentence or phrase?

A: Yes, assonance and alliteration can occur together in the same sentence or phrase. For instance, in the sentence “Sally sells sea shells by the seashore,” the repetition of the ‘s’ sound is an example of alliteration, while the repetition of the ‘e’ sound in “sea” and “shells” is an example of assonance.

FAQ 4: What Are Some Examples of Assonance?
Q: Can you provide some examples of assonance in poetry or literature?

A: Sure! An example of assonance is found in the phrase “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” where the repeated ‘ai’ vowel sound creates a harmonious effect. Another example from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells” is “Hear the mellow wedding bells,” with the repetition of the ‘e’ sound in “mellow” and “bells.”

FAQ 5: Why Do Writers Use Assonance and Alliteration?
Q: Why do writers use assonance and alliteration in their writing?

A: Writers use assonance and alliteration to add musicality, rhythm, and emphasis to their writing. These literary devices can make the text more engaging, memorable, and pleasing to the ear. They also can help to create mood, draw attention to specific words or themes, and enhance the overall aesthetic quality of the work.

These questions and answers should help clarify the differences and uses of assonance and alliteration in literature.

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