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Assonance

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English

Oh, oo bee doo

I want to be like you

I want to walk like you

Talk like you, too

Does this sound familiar? You probably know the song 'I Wan'na Be Like You' from Disney's The Jungle Book (1967). But do you know what makes the song so catchy? It's the repetition of vowel sounds!

Let's take a look at the same excerpt with an emphasis on the repeated vowel sounds:

'Oh, oo bee doo

I wanna be like you

I wanna walk like you

Talk like you, too'

Are you surprised to discover that there are so many repeated vowel sounds? This is actually a literary device called assonance.

Assonance is the repetition of similar or identical vowel sounds within related words in a sentence or a phrase. The repeated vowel sounds could be in any part of the words - beginning, middle, or end.

You'll know you're looking at assonance when you notice that the same or similar vowel sounds are repeated in words that are closely connected to each other. Assonance is often used in poetry, but it also appears in other forms of writing such as prose and song lyrics. Although perhaps unintentionally, assonance is also often present in our everyday speech!

How to identify assonance

To spot assonance in poetry or in other forms of writing, you have to identify the similar vowel sounds that can occur anywhere within the words in a series of closely connected words.

It is also important to remember that the repetition of the same sound is not always the repetition of the same letter:

In the word 'gone' the letter 'o' corresponds to the sound 'o'. But, in the word 'drown', the letter 'o' corresponds to the sound 'a'.

Assonance

Assonance is a literary device that is used to emphasise specific words in order to make a phrase sound more pleasing to the ear. As you can imagine, there are plenty of uses for such a device!

Let's take a look at the effect of assonance in some examples.

Assonance in poetry

Assonance is a poetic technique that adds extra quality and value to the rhythm of a poem.

This is an example from 'The Tyger' (1794) by English poet William Blake:

'Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?'

Pay attention to the repeated 'i' sound. Try reading the excerpt out loud. How does it make you feel? You will probably notice how smooth the flow of the poem is, precisely due to the repetition of the same vowel sound.

It is also important to note that the same sound is not always contained in the same letter. Here, you can see that the sound 'i' is produced by the letter 'i' but also by the letter 'y' and the word 'eye'.

We can see another example of assonance in the poem 'Traveling' (2006) by Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling:

'Like streetlights

still lit

past dawn,

the dead

stare at us

from the framed

photographs.

You may say otherwise,

but there they are,

still here

traveling

continuously

backwards

without a sound

further and further

into the past.'

Note how, when spoken, the repeated, drawn-out vowel sounds in the words reflect the topics of death and the continuation of time. The use of assonance is a tool that can make the sounds of words within a text reflect certain meanings and emotions.

Assonance in prose

One of the purposes of assonance in prose is to set the mood in a work of literature.

Let's look at this example from the novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens:

' It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... '

This is the opening sentence of the novel which is well-known for a reason. The use of assonance has contributed to making this passage memorable and setting the mood.

Irish writer James Joyce also uses assonance in his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916):

'Soft language issued from their spitless lips as they swished in low circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds.'

Try reading the sentence out loud and pay attention to the repetition of the short 'i' sound. How does it make you feel? Notice how the sound of the words makes the feeling of what is described in the sentence even stronger. The use of assonance creates this effect.

Assonance in songs

Assonance is one of the poetic techniques that songwriters often utilise.

Let's take a look at this example from Elton John's song 'Crocodile Rock' (1973):

'But the biggest kick I ever got

Was doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock

While the other kids were rocking 'round the clock

We were hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock '

Note how the repetition of the short 'i' and 'o' sounds makes the lyrics sound musical even without the added music. Additionally, the use of assonance in the song affects the listeners by making it easier for them to remember the lyrics. This memorability has helped 'Crocodile Rock' to become a recognisable classic in pop music.

Assonance in common phrases and names

Whether we realise it or not, assonance is not just strictly a literary device - it is also a part of our everyday life.

Let's consider a few examples of familiar phrases:

Dumb luck

Chips and dip

Keep your eyes on the prize

Common phrases are common for a reason. Because they are so easy to remember, we are more likely to use them! The repetition of vowel sounds in assonance makes the words in such phrases stand out and is often the reason why they are so memorable.

Because of this, it may not be so surprising that assonance appears in many famous names and titles that we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

The brand Coca-Cola

The Johannes Vermeer painting Girl with a Pearl Earring

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

Consonance and alliteration are literary devices that are similar to assonance. Let's explore the differences between them so that we can clearly identify one from the other.

Assonance vs. Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in a series of closely connected words. Similarly to assonance, the repeated sounds could be anywhere within the words.

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds, whereas assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. To tell assonance apart from consonance, always pay attention to whether a repeated sound is a vowel or a consonant.

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

Assonance: There is a way to make you pay.

Consonance: She stood on the road and cried.

In the assonance example, the repeated sound 'ay' is a vowel sound and, in the consonance example, the repeated sound 'd' is a consonant sound.

Assonance vs. alliteration

Alliteration is usually the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of closely connected words. It is a form of consonance and, in most cases, it involves the repetition of consonant sounds. However, sometimes alliteration can be the repetition of vowel sounds.

Alliteration is different to assonance because the repeated sounds normally only occur at the beginning of the words. If a vowel sound is repeated in the middle or at the end of a word, then we are looking at assonance.

Consider these examples of the repetitive use of the vowel sound 'i' that show the difference between assonance and alliteration:

Assonance: Light your fire

Alliteration: Icy eyes

In the case of the assonance, the 'i' sound is repeated in the middle of the words, whereas in the case of the alliteration it occurs at the beginning of the words.

Assonance vs. Rhyme - what is the difference?

Both assonance and rhythm are poetic techniques that are used to enhance the rhythm of a poem and to create certain patterns. Nonetheless, there is a distinctive difference between the two.

Rhyme occurs when both consonant and vowel sounds are repeated at the end of the words in a sentence or a phrase.

These examples will help you spot the difference between assonance and rhyme:

Assonance: Only the lonely can understand.

Rhyme: The kite disappeared into the night.

In the case of the assonance only the vowel sound 'o' is repeated in the beginning and middle of the words 'only' and 'lonely'. Therefore, as there is no repetition of vowel and consonant sounds together and the repeated sounds are not at the end of the words, this is not an example of rhyme. In the case of rhyme, the vowel sound 'i' and the consonant sound 't' are repeated at the end of the words 'kite' and 'night'.

Sometimes assonance can occur in rhyme. Consider this example of rhyme:

Good night, sleep tight!

Note that the highlighted sounds are both vowels and consonants. The consonant sound 't' is repeated at the end of the words 'night' and 'tight'. The vowel sound 'i' (produced by the combination of the letters 'i', 'g' and 'h') is repeated in the same words.

The assonance in the rhyme is marked below:

Good night, sleep tight!

If only the vowel sound 'i' was repeated, the phrase would be purely assonance. It is the repetition of both the vowel sound 'i' and the consonant sound 't' at the end of the words that make it a rhyme.

Assonance - key takeaways

  • Assonance is a literary device that occurs when similar or identical vowel sounds are repeated within closely connected words in a sentence or a phrase.
  • The repeated sounds can be anywhere within the words - in the beginning, the middle or the end.
  • Assonance is a poetic technique that is used in literature, songwriting, common phrases and names.
  • You can identify assonance by spotting the repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds (that may not necessarily be the same letters) in a series of words. These sounds may appear in different parts of the words.
  • Assonance is not to be confused with alliteration, consonance and rhyme. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds within closely connected words. Alliteration is normally the repetition of the same sounds only at the beginning of words. Rhyme occurs when both consonant and vowel sounds are repeated at the end of the words.

Assonance

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

Assonance is a literary device that is mainly used as a poetic technique in poetry and prose. The use of assonance in literature contributes to the rhythm and the meaning of the language. Assonance also makes phrases and songs more memorable.

'Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?'

This is an example of assonance from the poem ''The Tyger'' (1794) by William Blake. The assonant sound `` i '' is repeated within related words in the sentence.

Assonance appears in poetry and prose, in common phrases, in songs, and sometimes even in names.

Alliteration is a literary device that usually occurs when the same sounds are repeated only in the beginning of the words in a sentence or a phrase. The difference is that assonance occurs when similar sounds are repeated anywhere within the words.

Consonance is a literary device which occurs when the same consonant sounds are repeated anywhere within the words in a series of words. Consonance is for consonant sounds what assonance is for vowel sounds.

Rhyme is a poetic technique which occurs when both consonant and vowel sounds are repeated at the end of closely connected words. Assonance only refers to the repetition of vowel sounds and it can appear anywhere within the words.

All letters that are not consonants are vowels. There are 5 vowel letters in the English alphabet: A, E, I, O, U.

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 vowel letter 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.

Final Assonance Quiz

Question

Is this an example of assonance or consonance?

'O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597).

Show answer

Answer

Assonance

Show question

Question

Why is this passage from Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' (1951) an example of assonance and NOT an example of consonance?

'Old age should burn and rave at close of day.' (6)

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting the repeated vowel sound 'a'. There is no repetition of consonant sounds, therefore this is not consonance.

'Old age should burn and rave at close of day'.

Show question

Question

Why is the following phrase from Robert Louis Stevenson's poem 'The Feast of Famine' (1890) an example of assonance and NOT an example of alliteration?

'crumbling thunder of seas' 

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the assonance by spotting the repeated vowel sound 'u' in the words 'crumbling' and 'thunder'. The sound is repeated in the middle of the words and no repetition of sounds occurs at the beginning of the words; therefore this is not an example of alliteration.

'crumbling thunder of seas'.

Show question

Question

Is the following passage from the poem 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' by Dylan Thomas (1951) an example of assonance or rhyme?

'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' 

Show answer

Answer

Assonance

Show question

Question

What form of writing is this following passage with assonance from?

'Soft language issued from their spitless lips as they swished in low circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds.'

Show answer

Answer

 Prose.

This assonance is from the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) by James Joyce.

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Question

Why is the following an example of rhyme and NOT an example of assonance?

'See you later, alligator.'

Show answer

Answer

You can identify the rhyme by spotting the repetition of the sound 'ater', a combination of vowel and consonant sounds, that occurs at the end of the words. There is no repetition of only vowel sounds, therefore this is not assonance.

See you later, alligator.

Show question

Question

Does the followint phrase contain assonance?

'Drowning bones'

Show answer

Answer

No


Show question

Question

What is the repeated vowel sound in this line with assonance from the Christmas carol Silent Night ?

'Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.'

Show answer

Answer

The vowel sound 'i'.

'Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.' 

Show question

Question

Is the following saying an example of assonance or rhyme?


'Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.'

Show answer

Answer

 Rhyme


Show question

Question

Does the following phrase contain assonance? 

'My wine is fine.'

Show answer

Answer

Yes


Show question

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