Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Alliterative slogan of Country Life butter.


Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound in successive words, as in "a peck of pickled peppers." Adjective: alliterative. Also known as head rhyme, initial rhyme, and front rhyme.

As J.R.R. Tolkien observed, alliteration "depends not on letters but on sounds." Thus the phrase know-nothing is alliterative, but climate change is not.*

Although alliteration is often associated with literary language, it also appears in many common idioms and advertising slogans.


The Lighter Side of Alliteration

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "putting letters together"


  • "My father brought to conversations a cavernous capacity for caring that dismayed strangers."
    (John Updike, The Centaur, 1962)
  • "Come see the softer side of Sears."
    (advertising slogan)
  • "Good men are gruff and grumpy, cranky, crabbed, and cross."
    (Clement Freud)
  • "A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Conclusive Evidence, 1951)
  • "Guinness is good for you."
    (advertising slogan)
  • "The soul selects her own society."
    (Emily Dickinson)
  • "The efficient Baxter bicycled broodingly to Market Blandings for tobacco."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, 1915)
  • "[A]s everybody knows, if the hands are not firmly on the handlebars, a sudden swerve spells a smeller."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters, 1938)
  • "The Gramercy Gym is two flights up some littered, lightless stairs that look like a mugger's paradise, though undoubtedly they are the safest stairs in New York."
    (Edward Hoagland, "Heart's Desire," 1973)
  • "[S]he had no room for gaiety and ease. She had spent the golden time in grudging its going."
    (Dorothy Parker, "The Lovely Leave")
  • "It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow."
    (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851) 
  • "The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
    The furrow followed free;
    We were the first that ever burst
    Into that silent sea."
    (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner")
  • "Forget the most obvious problem with collegiate calorie counting, that studying Kierkegaard or Conrad after a dinner of seitan and soy chips would render even robust stomachs seasick, sometimes outright ill. And I won’t harp on the clear link between vigorous salad consumption and sulkiness."
    (Marisha Pessl, "Seize the Weight." The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2006)
  • "I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me."
    (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)
  • "Miss Twining teaches tying knots
    In neckerchiefs and noodles,
    And how to tell chrysanthemums
    From miniature poodles."
    (Dr Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, and Lane Smith, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! Knopf, 1998)
  • "The verdict last week on Karen Matthews and her vile accomplice is also a verdict on our broken society.

    "The details are damning. A fragmented family held together by drink, drugs and deception. An estate where decency fights a losing battle against degradation and despair."
    (David Cameron, "There Are 5 Million People on Benefits in Britain: How Do We Stop Them Turning Into Karen Matthews?" Daily Mail, Dec. 8, 2008)
  • "In a somer seson, whan soft was the sonne . . ."
    (William Langland, Piers Plowman, 14th century)
  • "The sibilant sermons of the snake as she discoursed upon the disposition of my sinner's soul seemed ceaseless."
    (Gregory Kirschling, The Gargoyle, 2008)
  • "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
    (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)
  • "The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. . . ."

    "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
    (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925)
  • "Pompey Pipped at the Post as Pippo Pounces"
    (sports headline, Daily Express, Nov. 28, 2008)
  • "The people I'm really after with my silver bullet are the bully, the bigot, or the Babbitt."
    (comedian Jonathan Winters, quoted by by Gerald Nachman in Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Random House, 2003)
  • "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
    (James Joyce, "The Dead," 1914)
  • "Up the aisle, the moans and screams merged with the sickening smell of woolen black clothes worn in summer weather and green leaves wilting over yellow flowers."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970)
  • "My style is public negotiations for parity, rather than private negotiations for position."
    (Jesse Jackson)
  • "Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed."
    (Bob Dylan, "Lay, Lady, Lay")
  • "[Alliteration is] a device that many writers employ to create a treasure trove of tried-and-true, bread-and-butter, bigger-and-better, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, do-or-die, footloose-and-fancy-free, larger-than-life, cream-of-the-crop titles."
    (Edwin Newman, quoted by Jim Fisher in The Writer's Quotebook: 500 Authors on Creativity, Craft, and the Writing Life. Rutgers University Press, 2006)


  • "Like many another literary device, alliteration is best used sparingly, serendipity being a better inspiration--as in the Daily Mirror's LEGGY LOVELY LANDS UP LEGLESS--than midnight oil. It is to be doubted whether Cigarette-sucking Henry Cecil was sending up smoke signals before a steward's inquiry cleared his flying filly came to a Star sports sub in a frenzied flash."
    (Keith Waterhouse, Waterhouse on Newspaper Style, rev. ed. Revel Barker, 2010)
  • "Alliteration, or front rhyme, has been traditionally more acceptable in prose than end-rhyme but both do the same thing--capitalize on chance. . . . This powerful glue can connect elements without logical relationship."
    (Richard Lanham, Analyzing Prose. Continuum, 2003)
  • "[T]here are only about 20 consonant sounds in English, and most of them get repeated fairly often anyway. If you find a repetition of /s/ in a text, it may go unnoticed in normal reading, because /s/ is very common in English. So when writers want to draw attention to sounds, they are more likely to use certain sounds, and place them in certain prominent positions. Some sounds stand out more than others--for instance those that are made by stopping the airstream completely with your tongue or lips and then releasing the air. The sounds in this class are made for the letters p, b, m, n, t, d, k, and g . . .."
    (Greg Myers, Words in Ads. Routledge, 1994)


The Lighter Side of Alliteration

  • "Feminism's future must be proud, positive, powerful, perseverant and, whenever possible, alliterative."
    (Miss Piggy, on accepting a trailblazer award from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center of Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, June 2015)

  • "I love alliteration. I love, love, love it. Alliteration just makes everything sound fantastic. I genuinely can't think of anything with matching initials that I don't like: Green Goddess, Hemel Hempstead, Bum Bags, Monster Mash, Krispy Kreme, Dirty Dozen, Peter Purves, Est Est Est, the SS, World Wide Web, Clear Cache.

    "My show would combine all that was good about its alliterative brothers listed above. It was to be called 'Daily Daytime Debate.' And as far as I was concerned that was absolutely final. I'd changed it once and I was not going to change it again.

    "In the end, it was changed to 'Mid-Morning Matters' . . .."
    (Alan Partridge, with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Steve Coogan and Armanda Iannucci, I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan. HarperCollins, 2011)


* Not everyone agrees with Tolkien. For example, in his book An Appeal to Reason (2008), British politician Nigel Lawson states his preference for "the term 'global warming' rather than the attractively alliterative weasel words, 'climate change.'"

Pronunciation: ah-lit-err-RAY-shun