When you read poetry, you might notice the rhyme and musicality of the piece, particularly when it repeats certain sounds over and over. For example, the tongue twister “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper” grabs our attention and is fairly easy to memorize. 

Consonance is the method of repeating consonant sounds in a line of poetry or prose. It can occur anywhere within the word, in either stressed or unstressed syllables. 

For example, the words brittle, mettle, and spittle form consonance because they have a common consonant sound in the middle of the word, (/tle/). 

Take note that what is repeated is the consonant sounds, not necessarily the letters. For example, an “f” sound may be spelled with an “f” or “ph.” 

Examples of Consonance 

Take a look at the following sentences to get a feel for consonance. The letters in bold are the repeated consonant sounds.

  • The early bird gets the worm. 
  • And he huffed, and he puffed, and he blew the house down. 
  • Ker-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk! Sally put her blueberries in her pail.

Significance of Consonance in Literature 

Is there any reason why writers would choose to use repeated consonant sounds? Yes! Here are some reasons: 

1. Repeating certain sounds can create the dramatic effect that the writer wants. 

For example, read the following lines out loud: 

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter
Raindrops hitting the windowsill 

Can you hear the interior consonant sound (/t/) repeated? Does it remind you of the actual sound of raindrops as they hit the windowsill? 

2. For poetry, using consonance adds aural harmony and rhythm.

For example, read this folk song entitled “Follow the Drinking Gourd”: 

When the sun comes up
And the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd

3. Repeating consonant sounds can make words more memorable.

This is why many brand names make use of this tactic, as in the examples below:  

  • Coca-Cola
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Krispy Kreme 

Two Subcategories of Consonance 

Consonance refers to the repetition of the consonant sounds. The following are specific types of consonance: 

1. Alliteration 

Alliteration is the repetition of consonants at the beginning of two or more words in the same sentence or phrase.

For example: 

“With bloody blameful blade he bravely broached his bloody boiling breast.” —William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2. Sibilance 

Sibilance is the repetition of the /s/, /sh/ and /z/ sounds. For example: 

“Sally sells seashells by the seashore. 

The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.

So if she sells seashells on the seashore,

Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.”

Notice the S sounds in the beginnings and ends of several words. The repeated S sounds in the end of the words are sibilance.

Examples of Consonance

Consonance is a common tool in poetry, although writers also use it in prose. Take a look at the examples below: 

Example #1. Peter Piper tongue twister

Consonance is commonly used in tongue twisters. For example: 

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
A peck of pickled pepper, Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper
Where’s the peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked?

All the P sounds in the beginning of these words are alliteration, but we also see consonance in the “k” sounds and “r” sounds.

Example #2. The Third Chair by A.A. Milne

When I am in my ship, I see
The other ships go sailing by. 
A sailor leans and calls to me
As his tall ship goes sailing by. 
Across the sea he leans to me,
Above the wind I hear him cry:
“Is this the way to Round-the-World?” 
He calls as he goes by. 

The consonance in the above poem may also be called sibilance because of the repeated /s/ and /sh/ sounds. 

Example #3. Psalm 23 of the King James Bible 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil: 
for thou art with me; 
thy rod and thy staff, 
they comfort me.

Here we find two sounds repeated, the soft /th/ and the hard /th/ sounds. 

Difference Between Consonance and Assonance

You might understand consonance better when you know how to differentiate it from assonance.

Whereas consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds, assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. For example, in the sentence, “The old boatman strolls down the shore, all alone,” you can hear the long “o” sound several times. 

Using Consonance in Writing

Learning to use literary devices like consonance can help you become more creative in your writing.

Practice using them, whether you are writing poetry or prose, and you will find an added layer of challenge as you write! 

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