English Focus: Alliteration

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How fast can you say “Peter picked a pick of pickled peppers”? What about “Can you can a can as a canner can can a can”? These sentences are known as tongue twisters and are examples of alliteration. Each sentence is made up of a string of words which all repeat a particular sound, created by using the same starting letter or letters.

Alliteration is commonly found in poetry, but can also be used very effectively in other forms of writing. Another common place to see alliteration used is in the newspaper, as the repeated sound makes for catchy, memorable headlines. For example, “History in his hands”, was used by one newspaper when Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013. The effect is a more dramatic headline where the emphasis of the ‘h’ on each word jumps out and punctuates the sentence. It isn’t necessary to use the whole phrase or sentence in this way, however, as a few words can still add emphasis like this recent headline, “Pensions shake-up shambles”.

Alliteration can be used to make your writing more interesting and varied. You can affect the mood of your piece by repeating particular hard or soft sounds to suit the atmosphere that you are trying to create. Repeating ‘ch’ or ‘st’ sounds, for example, would create a harsh and pointed style to create an uncomfortable feeling, like in The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe: “And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting”. Here the repeated phrase “still is sitting” creates a feeling of menace. Alternatively, softer sounding words such as those starting with ‘w’ or ‘sh’ are soothing and create a comforting feeling in phrases like “welcoming weariness by the washing waves”.

Adding humour to writing is a good way to avoid it becoming one dimensional, and alliteration can help you inject humour more easily. For example, you could use tongue twisters to summarise key information in a piece of descriptive or expositionary writing. You could also use alliteration for the names of characters, companies and other details, which would create a jovial, or more memorable piece.

As alliteration repeats a similar sound within a sentence it can also add rhythm, particularly when using repeated short words, like a drum with each repeated sounded beaten out. For example, the first line of The Raven has a clear beat created from its syllables: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary”. The rhythm of the repeated phrases along with the alliteration of “weak and weary” adds emphases to the feelings of the author at that moment. Using a similar beat throughout the poem adds to the effect. This can be used in other forms of writing as well, as rhythm also helps make the writing more memorable. For example, if advertising a carnival or fete there might be a list of events to highlight. Using alliteration in the text and a repeated rhythm would be very striking and more memorable for the reader.

So alliteration can be used to inject mood or emotion into a piece of writing. It can also be used to add rhythm and emphasis, which helps to make the context more memorable. Putting these two things together becomes a powerful thing when you are writing a piece to persuade people of something. Persuasive writing can be very challenging as you are trying to change how someone feels about a topic. Even with the best argument, other people may hold equally strong views, so you have to work hard to make your argument stand out. Using alliteration adds drama and style to your argument, which will play on the emotions of your reader. For example, if you were trying to persuade someone not to smoke cigarettes you could use “tar is a terrifyingly terrible toxin with tragic terminations.” The ‘t’ sound is harsh and emphasises the message, whilst the repetition and word selection paint a negative result, so it is clear that this isn’t a good thing.

Alliteration is a useful and potentially entertaining writing tool that you can use to enhance the quality of your written work. In addition, being confident using alliteration will help you understand an author’s purpose, as you will have a better appreciation of the effect being created when you come across it in other texts.

How much alliteration can you uncover in one day? As we mentioned, alliteration can be found in the names of characters, brand and business names and lots of other things. Write in the comments box any alliteration you come across in one whole day. Let’s see who finds the most!