Consonance and Assonance

By Nicholas Klacsanzky

In my previous blog, I told you about one of my favorite literary techniques: alliteration. This technique is used to make writing sound more interesting to readers. Indeed, alliteration (which is a usage of several words starting from the same letter in a row, or that are close together) is a great tool of creating impressions. It is based on the imitation of a sound. Another principle of building alliteration sequences is to choose sounds associated with certain qualities. For example, you can use “r” for alliterations describing loud sounds, “sh” or “f” to describe a flow, a whisper, or some quiet movement, “n” or “m” to convey a sensation of viscosity, and so on.

Today I am going to teach you similar techniques, called consonance and assonance. Don’t confuse them. They are very alike: consonance is a repetition of consonants in the middle of words throughout a sentence, and assonance is the same, but only involving vowels.

The purpose of these two techniques is the same as in the case with alliterations: creating a specific mood or conveying a certain emotion through sounds that can connect to (or become associated with) what is being described.

A good example of consonance is the following line from Edgar Allen Poe’s “Raven”: “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.” Pay attention to how the “s” is repeated throughout the line. Though the first two words start with “s” which is alliteration, it gradually turns into consonance (uncertain, rustling).

As for assonance, a good example would be James Joyce’s quote from his “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”:

“Soft language issued from their spitless lips as they swished in low circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weed.”

Personally, I find alliteration and consonance more effective in terms of creating an impression; in my opinion, consonants tend to draw more attention, whereas vowels are not so obvious, especially if they are located in the middle of words. But, in fact, the choice of which to use is up to you!