This Literary Device Makes Your Writing Sound More Poetic — Here’s How to Use It

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JasmineShirey430
Freelance Writer & Nonprofit Information Officer
July 15, 2024 at 12:26PM UTC
If you're wondering how to spice up your writing, one way is through using literary devices. Read on to learn about this lyrical literary tool.

What is alliteration?

Alliteration is the use of multiple words that start with the same letter or sound in close succession. It's a literary device that can make a poem or prose more audibly appealing. Alliteration can also help draw emphasis to certain words or ideas. When it's used in excess, you can end up with tongue twisters such as “She sells seashells by the seashore” or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” The rules governing what “counts” as alliteration aren’t carved in stone; there's heavy alliteration (such as the tongue twisters above) and very light alliteration, such as “I lost my favorite locket.”

Why is alliteration used?

Alliteration has many uses. From poetry to speeches, marketing to giving presentations, writing narratives to even creating a cover letter, alliteration can play a role. Below are some benefits of using this device.

• To set a rhythm. 

Different phonemes have different connotations. The sound of the letter “s” often reminds readers or listeners of snakes and of hushed, slow warnings or sly behavior, whereas a hard sound, such as “b,” can quicken the pace of a sentence and make it almost bouncy. Alliteration can change the pace of a sentence or paragraph and change the transitions between words and sentences. These factors affect the rhythm of a poem, speech or cover letter.

• To emphasize. 

Whether you really want your employees to pay attention to a certain request, customers to remember a slogan or readers to think about a given line, alliteration is a great way to emphasize certain words or a sentence and make it stick in people’s minds. The Association for Psychological Science released a study in 2008 that showed alliteration was an effective tool for memory. In the report, they write, “Participants in the same-alliteration condition were able to recall the most from the literature they read,” compared to participants who read literature with alliterative sounds that changed throughout, or no alliteration at all.

• To set a mood. 

Similar to setting a rhythm, setting a mood can be accomplished through alliteration. Whereas setting a rhythm has to do with specific words and the spaces between them, setting a mood is more “big picture” and has to do with sentences and their transitions. Using a consistently soft alliterative sound such as “s” or “h” can make the mood of your piece calming or quietly unnerving, depending on the specifics, whereas using a consistently hard alliterative sound such as “k” or “b” can set an energetic or domineering tone, again depending on context and specifics.

How do you use alliteration in your writing?

If you want to utilize alliteration, first identify your goals for writing. Is this poem supposed to drip romance? Is this speech supposed to inspire? Is this presentation supposed to convince? Identifying these goals, specific and broad, will help you use alliteration to your benefit. Simply stringing together words with similar-sounding starts (see what I did there?) isn’t going to help you if the effects of the alliteration don’t match your goals. Like any form of figurative language, alliteration will backfire if you are throwing it just to have it, without a specific purpose.
Once you have a goal, say cheering employees up with an email after a setback, you're ready to start experimenting with alliteration. Letters that are too soft or evoke sad emotions — “f,” “h,” “o,” “s,” etc. — should be avoided for the alliteration. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid these sounds altogether — often, phonemes that can sound sad in excess have a completely different effect when used to transition between other letters. 
Next, identify which phonemes evoke the feelings you want to convey. Heavy use of “b's” can be uplifting and funny. “P’s” can be reassuring and evoke feelings of “looking forward.” “T’s” can even sound sarcastic and ready for anything. The mood set by different phonemes is going to depend, of course, on the content of your writing, the situation and how dense or heavy your alliteration is. Play around with it and try to feel how different combinations change your writing.

Examples of alliteration.

Pop culture.

1. Kim Kardashian company KKW
2. Sexiest Man Selection Secrets
3. Thanksgiving threats
4. Ouster Opens Opportunity for Obama
5. Brady Bunch
6. The West Wing
7. Charlie and Chocolate Factory
8. Mickey Mouse
9. Severus Snape
10. Seattle Seahawks
11. Free Fallin’
12. Marylin Monroe
13. "I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet." (Hello)
14. "Whisper words of wisdom" (Let It Be)
15. Sweet Seducing Sighs
16. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." (Big Yellow Taxi)

Literature. 

17. "Definitions belonged to the definers — not the defined." (Beloved by Toni Morrison)
18. "You are not wrong, who deem/That my days have been a dream" (A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allen Poe)
19. Love’s Labour’s Lost (William Shakespeare)
20. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
21. Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin)
22. "Behemoth, biggest born of earth" (Paradise Lost by John Milton)
23. Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
24. Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
25. "The free bird thinks of another breeze" (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou)
26. "For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky" (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge)
27. "Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields." (Sir Galahad by Alfred Tennyson)
28. The Soul selects her own Society (Emily Dickenson) 
29. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly (Dubliners by James Joyce)
30. "Who was gnibbling the gnose of his gnu?" (The Gnome, The Gnat, & The Gnu by Shell Silverstein) 

Business and advertising.

31. "Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline." (Maybelline)
32. "Shave time. Shave money." (Dollar Shave Club)
33. "What’s in your wallet?" (Capital One)
34. "The snack that smiles back" (Goldfish Crackers)
35. Bed, Bath, and Beyond
36. Kit Kat
37. Lulu Lemon
38. PowerPoint
39. Coca-Cola Company
40. American Airlines
41. Krispy Kreme
42. PayPal
43. Chuck E Cheese
44. Best Buy
45. Americal Apparel 

Politics

46. Founding Fathers
47. "Conjured connections and correspondence" (Declaration of Independence)
48. "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union […] provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare." (The Constitution’s Preamble)
49. Al Gore’s “prosperity and progress” and George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”
50. "Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy family, and a hopeful future." (Bill Clinton)
51. "The most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall." (Barack Obama)
52. "All for which America stands is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front." (Ronald Reagan)
53. "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation." (Martin Luther King, Jr.) 

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