A Classic Sampler
Beowulf / Viking Poetry
Sir Gawain & the
Green Knight and Pearl
Poetic Techniques / Essays
Masthead / Awards
New Changes & Old
A Poet's Guide to Alliterative Verse
Part V: Rules for Alliteration:
But it's very important to be clear what counts as alliteration and what does not.
There are several common misconceptions. So let's clear them up, and add a few other
- Proper alliteration is NOT a repetition of letters, it is a repetition of sounds.
For example, fish and physics alliterate because they begin with the same
consonant sound (f) - even though the initial letters are different.
Conversely, tin and thin do not alliterate, because they begin with
different consonant sounds, even though they start with the same letter.
- Alliteration is NOT just repeating consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
What matters is the strongest, stressed syllable of a word. The only consonant
which counts is the one that starts the syllable with strongest stress.
For example, below the belt is NOT a good alliteration, because
stress naturally falls on the second syllable of below, so you would have to
alliterate on l not on b.
On the other hand, above the belt is a good alliteration, because
the stressed syllables both start with b.
- Vowels alliterate with other vowels.
For example, a phrase like ultimate evil alliterates because both stressed
syllables start with a vowel.
- Some special cases:
- In the best usage, the consant s (when followed immediately by a vowel) does NOT alliterate
with the consonant clusters sp, st, or sk, or with similar but distinct sounds like sh.
- In some older forms of alliterative poetry, words starting with h alliterate with words starting
with a vowel. This doesn't work in my dialect of English, which never drops an h. You will
need to judge this point for yourself.
Back: Alliteration: Linking Half-lines Together
Next: Rhythm: Lifts and dips
Copyright ©2000, Paul Deane