Assonance is a literary device where vowel sounds are repeated in words, phrases, or sentences. Used in poetry and prose, assonance is all about the same sounds and not about similar spelling. Assonance creates rhythm and mood through its use of repetition.
Assonance is frequently found in literary works.
Assonance is a literary device that uses repetition to create a sense of rhythm and mood in prose or poetry.
Related to rhyme, it is characterised by the repeated use of vowel sounds in words, phrases, or sentences that are close to each other.
The word assonance is derived from the Latin ‘assonare’, which translates into English as ‘to sound’. This hints at the key aspect of assonance - that it is sound-based and not based on similar spelling. For the same reason, assonance is sometimes referred to more casually in English as ‘vowel rhyme’.
Often in assonance, the consonants will differ and the matching vowel sound will be in the middle of a word, phrase, or sentence. While similar to rhyme and alliteration, assonance is more subtle. It is used more frequently in modern poetry.
Poets use assonance to replace end rhyme and alliteration for a more nuanced and complex type of rhythm.
- An example of assonance in a word: whenever.
- An example of assonance in a phrase: the lady of the lake.
- An example of assonance within a sentence: The breeze rustled the trees.
Assonance is a sound-based literary device.
Assonance: Effects on Mood and Rhythm
The main effects created by assonance in prose and poems are those of rhythm and mood. The rhythm created is often visual but is always auditory or sound-based. For example, using longer sounds creates a slower, more placid rhythm while using short sounds can create a sense of urgency or quick movement. Assonance also affects mood and tone.
Mood is important in literature, whether it is related to a poem or prose. Longer, slower sounds tend to create more sombre, relaxed, or even haunting moods. Short, quick sounds create moods that are often lighter and could be more energising, invigorating or uplifting.
- The long, drawn-out 'o' sounds of:
Oh, no. This is so slow.
- Or the short, clipped 'e' sounds of:
Well, Chanel did rebel.
Think about how the different sounds above make you feel and what kind of rhythm they make. What words would you use to describe the rhythm and mood in the two examples above?
Assonance versus Alliteration Examples
In English literature, assonance is often confused with alliteration, but it is more subtle with more possible variations. Used in poetry and prose, alliteration is a common device also used to create rhythm and mood.
The difference is in the use of a similar sound versus the same letter and the position of the repetition. Alliteration is the repetition of the same first letter of a series of words in a phrase, sentence, or stanza. This letter can be a vowel or a consonant. Assonance is a little more difficult to spot, and is the repeated use of similar sounds of vowels only. These vowel sounds are mostly found in the middle of words. The consonants in assonance are usually different.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses alliteration in his poem 'The Rime of The Ancient Mariner' (1797-1798). It is the 'f' sound that is repeated across words in the stanza.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free:
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.' 1
The same Coleridge poem has examples of assonance in the next stanza too.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!' 1
What other two literary devices can you spot in these stanzas? Hint: they are both similar to alliteration.
Assonance versus Consonance Examples
Another literary device confused with assonance and alliteration is consonance. The difference lies in the type of sound repeated, and where the repeated part of the word is located. Consonance is the repetition of consonants or consonant sounds to create mood and rhythm. In contrast to alliteration, which is a repetition always found at the beginning of a word, these consonants can be anywhere in a word.
Assonance repeats vowel sounds only, so it's easier to differentiate from consonance when analysing a poem or prose.
Edgar Allen Poe is a master of literary devices. He uses consonance throughout his poem, 'The Raven' (1845).
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.' 2
Assonance, consonance, and alliteration: example
Is it possible to use all three of these related literary devices together in one poem? Yes, it is. Once again, a useful example; Poe’s poem 'The Raven' uses all three in just one line.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain' 2
- Assonance: This can be seen in the repeated ‘ur’ in ‘curtain’ and ‘purple’.
- Alliteration: The repeated ‘s’ at the beginning of ‘sad’ and ‘silked’.
- Consonance: This device can be seen in the reiterated ‘s’ sound in ‘rustling’ and ‘uncertain’.
Assonance in Poetry Examples
Many modern poets use assonance instead of the more predictable perfect or end rhyme. Assonance can be as effective in creating mood, tone, and rhythm without being as noticeable to the reader. This makes it a useful device for authors and poets who prefer to create more natural language in their work.
For another example of 'The Raven’s' use of literary devices, we can look at how Poe uses assonance to create a sense of slow pace and sombre mood in the first line. The tone, pace, and mood are then altered by the switch to a short repeated sound in the last two lines.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.' 2
A more modern example of assonance in poetry can be seen in the opening lines of Maya Angelou’s 'Still I Rise' (1978).
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies...' 3
Assonance in Literature Examples
Arundhati Roy is a musical writer of prose who makes extensive use of sound-based literary devices. In her novel, The God of Small Thing (1997) the first paragraph contains several examples of assonance. These include the repeated 'i' in “river shrinks” and the reiteration of the ‘a’ sound in “fatly baffled’.
Assonance in Popular Culture Examples
The use of assonance is associated with literature, specifically prose, and poetry but it exists in many other art forms. Songs, hip hop or rap verses, journalistic articles, and even advertising slogans can all make use of assonance.
Look at these lines from Eminem's track 'Lose Yourself' (2002). Within Hip Hop, Eminem is regarded as one of the most prolific users of assonance.
Look, if you had one shot or one opportunityTo seize everything you ever wanted in one moment' 4
A slightly more current example of lyrical assonance can be seen in Rihanna’s 'Diamonds' (2012).
Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond
Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy
You and I, you and I, we’re like diamonds in the sky.' 5
Assonance - Key Takeaways
Assonance is a literary device that makes use of the repetition of vowel sounds to create mood, tone, and rhythm in poetry or prose.
Often confused with alliteration and consonance, assonance is defined by its repeated use of vowel sounds that are usually found in the middle of a word with different consonants. It is also casually referred to in English as 'vowel rhyme'.
Poems and prose can combine assonance, consonance, and alliteration. Examples of authors and poets who do this are Edgar Allen Poe and Arundhati Roy.
Assonance is used at the word, phrase, and sentence level in both poetry and prose. Examples of words that contain assonance include 'whenever' and 'crackerjack'.
Primarily a sound-based literary device, the word assonance is actually derived from the Latin word for sound.