Assonance (AZZ-so-nanss) is a literary sound device that repeats a vowel sound several times in a sequence of words. It’s easiest to spot in poetry, but it can be used to great effect in fiction, nonfiction, speeches, and advertisement as well. The word comes from French via the Latin assonantem, meaning “to resound.”
Examples of Assonance
To be effective, assonant repetition must occur within a short sequence of words, though not necessarily in consecutive words. Note that the same vowel sound can come from different letters or letter combinations. Additionally, assonance doesn’t need to be at the beginning of a word. Consider the following examples, where the repeated vowel sounds are bolded:
- “Is it true that you introduced the bride to the groom?”
- “Seeing the trees release their leaves and hearing the autumn breeze made me feel complete.”
- “I got caught by my pop drawing on the sidewalk with chalk.”
Assonance and Other Sound Devices
Consonance is a sound device that’s a close sibling of assonance. Essentially, it’s the consonant version: repeating consonant sounds within a short sequence of words. For example: “Jackie generally adjusts the objects in the jar to rearrange their energies.” The j/soft g sound repeats throughout the sentence. Notice that, as with assonance, the position of the consonant sound within the word doesn’t matter.
Alliteration, on the other hand, can only occur at the beginning of each word, and it can be a consonant sound or a vowel sound.
- “Mika makes mulberry muffins and munches them m”
- “Annie lobs apples at Agnes and acts a”
Assonance, Rhyme, and Rhythm
Assonance and Rhyme
A syllable is a word component that contains a single vowel sound. Every word has at least one stressed syllable, which is the syllable that’s emphasized when a word is spoken. For example, which of these sounds right: paper or paper? Stresses can vary within the same language from region to region (e.g., the word pecan can be pronounced pee-can or pi-cahn). How syllables appear in words is a foundational component of rhyme, particularly with slant and internal rhymes.
Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to two or more stressed syllables that have different vowel sounds but end with the same consonant sound, like heart and court. However, the definition has expanded to include assonance, so pack and bat also qualify. Popular music, particularly rap and hip-hop, often depends on slant rhyme to avoid repetitive words/sounds. After all, there are only so many perfect rhymes in the English language, and some words (e.g., month and purple) have no rhymes at all.
Another important poetic device is internal rhyme. Typically, when people think about rhyming in poetry, they think of two end words rhyming:
Coffee tastes good and makes me feel nice.
I love it hot in a mug. I also love it on ice.
Internal rhyme, however, occurs in the middle of a line, and it can include any combination of rhyming words:
- Rhyming with a word at the beginning of a line: “Tea is not for me; it’s not my cup.”
- Rhyming with a word at the end of a line: “If my coffee’s not black, I’ll send it back.”
- Rhyming with other words in the middle of a line: “I don’t think it’s good to drink your dessert.”
- Rhyming across different lines: “Keeping coffee by my side keeps me wide-eyed / It can’t be denied: it’s better than all / the others I’ve tried. It keeps me in stride.”
Assonance and Rhythm
Rhythm refers to the beat created by alternating stressed and unstressed syllables within a piece of writing or in speech. Assonance can strengthen rhythm and enhance whatever mood is being conveyed, especially in music.
For example, internet sensation-turned-popstar Doja Cat often flexes her lyrical and performance skills with humor. In “Mooo,” the repetition of the aw sound enhances the hilarious bovine lines, in addition to acting as a metronome for the beat of the song:
Assonance in Poetry
1. Nikki Giovanni, “Poetry”
The first lulling lines of this poem begin an interweaving of several repeating vowel sounds: oh, aw, and long i.
poetry is motion graceful
as a fawn
gentle as a teardrop
strong like the eye
finding peace in a crowded room
we poets tend to think
our words are golden
though emotion speaks too
loudly to be defined
The assonant effect draws out of certain words, which adds to the poem’s dreamy rhythm.
2. William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
The long o sound in these first four lines gives the impression of one going on a mopey traipse through a field:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
3. John Hodgen, “Forget-Me-Not”
Listen for the assonance in the first two lines:
My brother is dying and I am not.
I drag him behind me like a spiritless balloon, like the first robot,
The repeated long i sound stretches potentially sing-songy lines into the beginning of a dirge.
Examples of Assonance in Literature
1. Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Authors like Angelou, who are equally celebrated for poetry and prose, incorporate poetic devices into all their works. Notice the repeating short e sound in the beginning of her groundbreaking autobiographical novel:
Whether I could remember the rest of the poem or not was immaterial. The truth of the statement was like a wadded-up handkerchief, sopping wet in my fists, and the sooner they accepted it the quicker I could let my hands open and the air would cool my palms.
The little pops created by this use of assonance express the discomfort of being an embarrassed child.
2. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Another example of a poet writing prose, Carroll even put an example of assonance in the title of this children’s tale. The trend continues through the book’s first sentence:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?”
Further Resources on Assonance
Explore the math and science of how assonance makes for good rap with these insightful articles: “The best rapper alive, as decided by computers” by Phil Edwards and “Check the Rhyme: Quantifying Assonance in Rap Lyrics” by Iyi Obiechina.
Discover how assonance and other sound devices help people learn in “Phonemic repetition and the learning of lexical chunks: The power of assonance” by Seth Lindstromberg.