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Consonance

Two literary techniques involve the repetition of consonant sounds. One of these is alliterationwhich uses the same sound repeatedly used at the beginning of words in a phrase or sequence (we'll come back to this later), and the other is consonance, which is the topic of this article. 

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Consonance

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Repetition of consonant sounds

Two literary techniques involve the repetition of consonant sounds. One of these is alliteration, which uses the same sound repeatedly used at the beginning of words in a phrase or sequence (we'll come back to this later), and the other is consonance, which is the topic of this article.

Consonance is a poetic technique commonly used in literature. You may be surprised to learn that consonance also occurs in songs, everyday speech, and names.

What is Consonance?

Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in a series of closely connected words in a sentence or a phrase. The repeated consonant sounds may occur in any part of the words - beginning, middle or end. Usually, you can identify consonance when you spot that the same sound is repeated in several consecutive words.

Consonant letters

Consonants are speech sounds made when there is some kind of stricture in the vocal tract. The consonant letters are:

  • b
  • c
  • d
  • f
  • g
  • h
  • j
  • k
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • p
  • q
  • r
  • s
  • t
  • v
  • w
  • x
  • y
  • z

Although these are all of the consonant letters, it's the particular sounds they make in words that you need to pay attention to when identifying consonance.

How can you identify consonance?

It is not difficult to identify consonance, as long as you remember that it only concerns consonant sounds and that these sounds could be repeated in any part of words that are closely connected to each other. Another thing to keep in mind is that the repetition of the same sound does not necessarily mean the repetition of the same letter.

The sound of the letter "f" may correspond to the sound of the letters "ph".

There are 24 consonant sounds in English.

What are some examples of consonance?

Consonance is a popular literary device that has a wide range of usages.

Consonance in poetry

Since consonance is a poetic technique it makes an appearance in many poems.

Let's look at this example from the poem "Behind Me - Dips Eternity'' (1863)¹ by Emily Dickinson:

''Behind Me - dips Eternity-

Before Me - Immortality-

Myself - the term between -

Death but the Drift of Eastern Gray"

Pay attention to the highlighted repetition of the "t" sound in several words in the verse. As you can see, the same sound occurs at the beginning, middle and end of the words, and sometimes even in different parts of the same word. Try reading the excerpt out loud and you may notice how the words roll off the tongue! This effect is possible because of the use of consonance.

Another example of consonance in poetry is "Out-Out" (1961)² by Robert Frost:

"The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard

And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood"

Notice how the "d" sound is repeated in different parts of closely-connected words. This verse is an example of the effect consonance often has on the rhythm of a poem. There is a certain singsong quality to the language of the poem that is produced by repetition.

Consonance in prose

Prose may be different from poetry, but the quality of language in prose is just as vital as it is in poetry. The use of consonance can make a specific group of words stand out so that the reader is prompted to reread them and to understand them at a deeper level. Additionally, implementing consonance in prose can make the sound of the words correspond to their meaning.

Let's look at an example from Moby-Dick (1851)³ by American novelist Herman Melville:

"Nearly all joined in singing this hymn, which swelled high about the howling of the storm."

In this sentence, Melville depicts people who are singing a hymn together during a storm. Notice how the repetition of the "s" and "h" sounds adds a singsong quality to the sentence, making it mirror the action that is described in it. The sound of the words reflects the action of singing a hymn in a howling storm.

Here's another famous example of the use of consonance in prose, from the King James Version of the Bible (1611)4. Pay attention to the repetition of the "th" sound in Psalm 23: 4:

“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."

If you read this passage out loud, you might notice how the consonance helps slow down your speech. Like in the example from Moby-Dick, the quality of the sound of the words reflects the action that is depicted. One would imagine walking through 'the valley of the shadow of death' to be a slow and careful process.

Consonance in common phrases

Consonance is a literary device but that doesn't mean that it only appears in literature. Whether we realize it or not, we all use consonance in everyday speech.

Perhaps you have a friend who is usually the last one to do something. Do you tell them not to worry, that "it's a matter of time"? Maybe they reply with, "Better late than never"? Or maybe they still prefer to do this but "a little later".

These are only a few examples that serve to prove that consonance appears in common phrases that we use on a daily basis.

Moreover, consonance also occurs in popular tongue twisters:

Betty Botter bought some butter but, she said, the butter's bitter; if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter, that will make my batter better.

Tongue twisters are fun tools that are often used to help children learn pronunciation and clear diction. Professional actors and other public speakers also use tongue twisters. It is the use of consonance that makes the words in tongue twisters sound similar to each other, and aids with the challenge of saying those phrases out loud.

Consonance in songs

We've already mentioned that consonance can add a certain musical quality to language. It shouldn't come as a surprise to you that the literary device is also used in song lyrics.

Let's have a look at this example from Bob Dylan's song "Subterranean Homesick Blues'' (1965):

“Maggie comes fleet foot

Face full-a black soot

Talkin' that the heat put"

Notice how the repetition of the sounds "f" and "t" in the lyrics makes an otherwise bleak story feel slightly more joyous because of the playful tone of the composition.

Consonance in names

Many names that you encounter in your everyday life contain consonance.

These could be the names of fictional characters, such as:

Holly Golightly from the classic novella (1958) and film (1961) Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Sometimes both the name of a fictional character and the name of their author can contain consonance:

Such is the case with American-British writer Raymond Chandler and his fictional detective Philipe Marlowe.

These names could also be familiar titles or longer names:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Wizard of Oz

Consonance Image of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer StudySmarterThe name 'Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer' contains consonance of the letter 'R', making it a memorable name. - Wikimedia Commons.

Or, believe it or not, names containing consonance may even be the names of people you personally know! You might know an Abigail Tagg, for example.

Consonance vs. Alliteration vs. Assonance - what is the difference?

Alliteration and assonance are two other literary devices that have to do with the repetition of sounds. Sometimes it is easy to confuse them with consonance, so let's talk about how you can tell them apart.

Consonance vs. alliteration

Alliteration is a form of consonance that normally only appears at the beginning of words.

You can spot alliteration in a phrase when you notice that the same consonant sound is repeated at the beginning of the words. If the same sound also occurs in the middle or the end of the words, then you are looking at consonance.

This excerpt from the song "We Go Together" from the musical Grease (1978) is an example of consonance that is also alliteration:

"We go together like rammalammalamma kadingadadingadong"

As you can see, the "m" and "g" sounds, that appear in the middle and in the end of the words, are an example of consonance. However, since the "d" sound occurs at the beginning of the words, this means that this is also an example of alliteration.

Now, let's take a look at an example of consonance that is NOT also alliteration:

Mike likes his new bike.

In this sentence there is no repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of the words. The repeated "k" sound only occurs in the middle of the words. This is an example of consonance but it is not an example of alliteration.

Consonance vs. Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds in a series of words in a sentence or a phrase. Like consonance, the repeated sounds could appear at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the words.

Assonance is like consonance but for vowel sounds instead of consonant sounds. As long as you pay attention to whether a repeated sound is a vowel or a consonant, you should be able to tell assonance from consonance.

These example sentences will help you spot the difference between consonance and assonance:

Consonance: He struck a streak of bad luck.

Assonance: The cat is out of the bag.

In the example of consonance, the repeated sounds “k” is a consonant sound and there is no repetition of vowel sounds. In the example of assonance the repeated sound "a" is a vowel sound and there is no repetition of consonant sounds.

Consonance - key takeaways

  • Consonance is a literary device which occurs when the same consonant sounds are repeated in a series of closely connected words in a sentence or a phrase.
  • The repeated sounds can be anywhere within the words - at the beginning, the middle or the end.
  • Consonance is a poetic technique that is used in poetry, prose and songs. Consonance also appears in common phrases and names.
  • You can identify consonance by spotting the repetition of the same consonant sounds (that may not necessarily be the same letters) in a series of words. These sounds may appear in different parts of the words.
  • Consonance is similar yet different from alliteration and assonance. Alliteration is a form of consonance that usually occurs only at the beginning of words. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in a series of words in a phrase or a sentence.

SOURCE:

¹ Emily Dickinson, Behind Me-Dips Eternity, 1863

²Robert Frost, Out-Out, 1961

³Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851

4 King James Version of the Bible, 1611

5 Edna St. Vincent Millay, Travel, 1921 [flashcards]

Frequently Asked Questions about Consonance

Consonance is when the same consonant sounds (that may not necessarily be the same letters) are repeated in closely connected words in a sentence or a phrase.

All letters that are not vowels are consonants. There are 21 consonant letters in the English alphabet: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, and Z.

Vowels and consonants are the two different kinds of sounds in our speech. Vowels and consonants also refer to letters that correspond to the sounds. There are 21 consonant letters ( B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, Z) and 5 vowel letters (A, E, I, O, U) in the English alphabet. In English there are many more vowel sounds than there are vowel letters. This is because each letter vowel can be pronounced in different ways depending on the word it is in. Alliteration, assonance and consonance have to do with shared sounds rather than shared letters.

A consonant is a speech sound created with some kind of stricture in the vocal tract.

Consonant is the name given to a type of speech sound that is created with some kind of stricture in the vocal tract. This means that the airflow is obstructed by an articulator when it is being released, creating a specific consonant sound.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Where in a word can repeated consonants be to be classified as consonance?

How many consonant letters are there in English?

How many consonant sounds are there in the English language?

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