What is alliteration? Why do speakers, writers and artists use it so often? What are its effects?

Explore the effects it creates in these quotes:





Noun. The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words: “the alliteration of ‘beautiful billowing birds on the beach’.

Key Points


It’s very difficult to avoid feature-spotting with alliteration; students can easily spot it when they know about it, but can they explain its effects?


Centuries ago, when Old and Middle English was spoken and written, alliteration was much more common in poetry; it was the ‘glue’ that tied poems together. You can see this in the quote from Beowulf where many words alliterate.


Different letter sounds have different effects. The repeated ‘s’ sound can create a sinister hissing effect whereas strong consonants such as ‘b’ can create comedy. We see this in the headline ‘Bin Bagged’.


Students need to look very carefully at the context in which the alliteration is used and relate it to the meaning of the text. For example, the repeated ‘b’ sounds in the Beowulf lines create a sense of bravado, of courage, by suggesting the violence with which Heorot withstands.

Learn more

This is a great website where you can alliterate any word and get the same part of speech. Very good for developing students’ knowledge of grammar:

Old English is a great place to examine alliteration as a starting point. The British Library’s resources on Beowulf and Old English are fantastic:


About @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.
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