Alliteration is a device used in poetry and rhetoric whereby words begin with the same consonant to form a significant pattern. It emphasises the words, and adds to the rhythmic sense, especially if the consonants are hard, such as t/d; k/g; n.

Alliterative poetry

Medieval English poetry was predominantly alliterative, rather than rhyming, poetry. Examples include:

  • Beowulf
  • Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight
  • Piers Plowman.

Typically a line would have three alliterations, two in the first half of the line, one in the second half, with a caesura or mid-line break.

Geoffrey Chaucer (died 1400) used rhyming verse and after him alliterative verse gave way to rhyming, only using alliteration intermittently for emphasis. The Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins briefly revived its use as a central patterning device, after studying both Old English and Welsh alliterative verse.


The device whereby the same vowel is used within a series of words is called assonance. This too was used in medieval alliterative verse, but as the emphasis is muted, it is used less frequently.

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