Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Session #3: Alliteration, Consonance & Assonance

Alliteration, Consonance and Assonance? Oh boy! Any of you familiar with my work should know that I absolutely love all three of these things, maybe a little too much. Nevertheless…


  1. Alliteration – Reoccurrence of an identical consonant phoneme at the beginnings of closely arranged words, but only for stressed syllables.
  2. Consonance – Repetition of consonant phonemes within closely arranged words, stressed or unstressed, and can occur anywhere in the word.
  3. Assonance – Like consonance, but with vowels.

Example: “Fire fighter”

  1. The “f” phoneme is alliteration
  2. The “r” phoneme is consonance
  3. The “i” phoneme is assonance
    This is also an instance of approximate rhyme, and fun to say if you’re as easily amused as I am.


Well, there are a number of ways in which to exploit these features. I will name a few, but understand this is by no means a comprehensive list. As always, I encourage experimentation and community analysis over rote learning.

  1. They can be used to pinpoint or advertise stresses within a given line. For example, “We knew that love was not enough.” This should read, “We KNEW that LOVE was NOT eNOUGH” even if you never saw the line before, unless you’re William Shatner, in which case you would say, “WE KNEW that LOVE [pause] WASNOTENOUGH.”
  2. So long as they are not overused, they add a gratifying aesthetic quality, regardless of the tone of the line. “They rustle in the ditches, they tug and hang on the hedge.”
  3. But you can overuse them on purpose for humorous effect: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
  4. You can use multiple phonetic intensives within the same or adjacent lines to add emphasis. [No, we did not cover phonetic intensives yet. In short, certain words with similar connotations share a particular phoneme. For example, flare, flicker and flame all suggest light and rapid movement.]

“But Your Highness,” I like to pretend you say, “for how long does the ear retain a given phoneme?”

So far as I know, flatterer, there’s no hard science to determine this. As a rough guideline, based on my personal experience, I would say about twenty syllables, but this depends upon the idiosyncrasies of the piece. If you’re unsure, consider having someone read it for you to get some fresh ears on it.


The number one pitfall here is overuse. It is easy to do, and it isn’t always apparent to oneself when this has occurred. In my experience, you can get away with three, maybe four instances of alliteration with the same phoneme per twenty syllables or so (it just depends). Consonance and assonance are more forgiving: my advice is, again, to have someone else read it. If they laugh, you overdid it.

Of course, if you’re dispersing your alliteration, consonance and/or assonance over the space of several lines, so long as instances are occurring close enough together, the ear will retain the phoneme for as long as you continue the chain. This can be either a hindrance or a help.

Unstressed grammatical linkage (the, of, a, etc.) doesn’t have nearly the impact on the ear as stressed syllables do, so don’t obsess about the small fry. More often than not, you won’t have to worry about it.

Although alliteration can be used to draw attention to a stressed syllable, it cannot “force” a stress where none exists.

Beware the letter S.

Remember, the phoneme is what matters, not the letter. “Gopher” and “giant” don’t alliterate because the G in “giant” is pronounced like a J.

Suggested exercises:

Select three writing utensils of three different colors, and a poem of your choice. Associate each color with either alliteration, consonance or assonance, then circle and link all instances. I will include an excerpt from Swinburne’s “Atalanta In Calydon” in the following post for a striking (if goofy) example.

You are under no obligation to utilize these features, but simply be conscious of them as you compose.

[Excerpted from Swinburne’s “Atalanta In Calydon”]

"When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;
And the brown bright nightingale amorous
Is half assuaged for Itylus,
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.

Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers.
Maiden most perfect, lady of light,
With a noise of winds and many rivers,
With a clamour of waters, and with might;
Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,
Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;
For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,
Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.

Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,
Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?
O that man’s heart were as fire and could spring to her,
Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!
For the stars and the winds are unto her
As raiment, as songs of the harp-player;
For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her,
And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing.

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows, and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

The full streams feed on flower of rushes,
Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,
The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes
From leaf to flower and flower to fruit,
And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,
And the oat is heard above the lyre,
And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes
The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.

And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
The Maenad and the Bassarid;
And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

The ivy falls with the Bacchanal’s hair
Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;
The wild vine slipping down leaves bare
Her bright breast shortening into sighs;
The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves.
But the berried ivy catches and cleaves
To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare
The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies."

I think this is one of the most technically brilliant poems in existence. Look at the way the half-rhymes add to the sense of hopelessness and failure (why yes, I did have to study this in English):


Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved - still warm - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?

  • O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
    To break earth’s sleep at all?

- Wilfred Owen

That is indeed a striking poem.