Literary Terms























































































Glossary of Poetic Devices



Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in words. An easier (though less exact) way to say this is that alliteration is when the first sounds in words repeat.  Alliteration often works with assonance and consonance to make phonetically pleasing arrangements.

  • Jakia jumped in the jar of jelly.
  • Despite their mother’s warnings, the children chose to chew with their mouths open.
  • The grass grew green in the graveyard.

Notice the repetition of the “j” sound in the first example? Alliteration is not always so jarringly obvious. Sometimes it is very subtle, such as in the following example:

  • He keeps the kitchen clean.

Though this example is still pretty obvious, it shows that even when one word starts with a “k” and another word starts with a “c,” it is still considered an instance of alliteration.  When we study alliteration, we are concerned with the sounds of the words, not just the letters.


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. It is often used in combination with consonance and alliteration.

  • He saw the cost and hauled off.
  • Will she read these cheap leaflets.
  • The snow in the rose garden groaned.

Notice the repetition of the “awe” sounds in the first example, the “e” sounds in the second example, or the “o” sounds in the third example? Assonance can be subtle and may go unnoticed if you’re not scanning for it.


Also known as near rhyme, off rhyme, or slant rhyme, consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or at the end of words. Using consonance is a sophisticated poetic technique that can create subtle yet beautiful lyrics or lines of poetry. Here is an example of consonance:

  • Her finger hungered for a ring.
  • The satin mittens were ancient.
  • You could paddle through the spittle in the bottle.

Though the first of the above examples is also an example of personification, we are interested in the repetition of the “nger” and “ng” sounds. If nobody is around you right now, say out loud, “hungry and angry.” Notice how similar the words sound? What you are hearing is consonance, or the repetition of the “ngry” consonant sounds.


Onomatopoeia is when a word describes a sound and actually mimics the sound of the object or action it refers to when it is spoken.

Animal sounds are often onomatopoeic. Notice how the each of the following words imitates the sound of an animal.

arf, growl, roar, baa, hee-haw, screech, bark, hiss, snarl, bow-wow, honk, squawk, buzz, hoot, squeak, cackle, howl, tweet, caw, maa, twit, twoo, chatter, meow, warble, cheep, moo, whimper, chirp, neigh, whine, cluck, oink, whinny, cock-a-doodle-doo, peep, woof, coo, purr, yelp, cuckoo, quack, yip, gobble, ribbit, yowl

The following are examples of words to describe sounds often made by people. These bring to life what a sneeze sounds like (achoo) or how cute children sound when laughing (giggle).

Achoo Gag Mumble Ahem Gargle Munch Argh Gasp Murmur Bawl Giggle Mutter Blab Groan Phew Blurt Grunt Prattle Boohoo Grumble Slurp Brrr Guffaw Sniff Burp Ha-ha Snore Chatter Hiccup Snort Chomp Huh Sob Chortle Hum Squeal Chuckle Humph Tsk Clap Hush Waffle Cough Moan Whisper Eek Mmm Yawn

The following examples are sounds you may hear as you go about your day, ranging from the sound of your alarm clock blaring to a stack of books clattering to the floor:

Bam Flip Snip Bang Flutter Splash Bash Glug Splat Beep Gurgle Splatter Blare Jangle Splash Boing Jingle Splish Boink Ka-boom Splosh Boom Kerplunk Sputter Bubble Ooze Squelch Buck Ping pong Squish Bumble Pitter patter Swoosh Bump Plink Thud Clang Plop Thump Clank Pluck Thwack Clash Poof Tick tock Clatter Pop Tinkle Click Pow Trickle Clickety-clack Puff Vroom Clink Rattle Wallop Clunk Ring Whack Crackle Ruff Wham Crash Rumble Whip Creak Rustle Whir Croak Sizzle Whiz Crunch Slap Whoop Ding dong Slash Whoosh Drip Slip Zap Fizz Slither Zing Fizzle Slop Zip Flick Smash Zoom



Repetition is when the writer or speaker knowingly repeats a word or group of words for effect. This is a strong rhetorical technique that can also be used to build a theme in a speech or poem. It is important to note that it is not considered using repetition when a writer or speaker repeats essential articles, prepositions, pronouns, or conjunctions that are frequently used unintentionally as the mechanics of language dictate.

  • Nobody, oh nobody can make it out here alone.
  • Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
  • Love is a red, red rose.

In the first example, only one word in the sentence is repeating: nobody. Nonetheless, this is still considered repetition. A poet, writer, or speaker may also repeat more than one word to have a greater impact or to highlight the importance of an idea, such as in the second example. In the second example a whole group of words repeats: Free at last. Each method of repetition can effectively embolden a message.


Rhyme is when the end or final sound of two or more words are identical. If the end sounds are not identical, then the speaker or writer is using consonance or assonance instead. Rhymes can also occur internally or on the inside of words or lines of poetry. A rhyme may also be monosyllabic (a one syllable rhyme) or polysyllabic (rhyme two or more syllables), such as in the following examples:

  • I left my punch card on the lunch yard.
  • I drove a race car to the space bar.
  • We saw a butter fly flutter by.

This is the technique that students most often associate with poetry, but I encourage my students to try writing free or blank verse, as it takes much poetic skill to freely maneuver within the confines of a rhyme scheme.


Rhythm is when the arrangement of words creates an audible pattern or beat when read out loud. A good way to check to see if a passage of text is using rhythm is to just hum the sounds that the words make rather than clearly pronouncing them. If you can hear a song or identify a form in the sounds, then the text is rhythmic.

  • There once was a guy from Chicago / Who drank away all of his problems.
  • I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny / but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.
  • Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Instead of just reading these examples, trying humming them. Do you hear how they sort of bounce? This is a rhythm.


Enjambment is when the writer uses line breaks meaningfully and abruptly to either emphasize a point or to create dual meanings. When a poem is read, the reader will conventionally make a slight pause (shorter than a comma) when transitioning from line to line. When a writer uses enjambment, he or she uses this space to spread an idea over more than one line, either creating an alternate interpretation of the lines or drawing attention to the enjambed words.

Rolling through the field in the
of winter.

When the word “dead” is placed on a line in isolation, it invites the reader to focus on that idea. Surrounded by empty space, the idea may resonate powerfully. Though enjambment could be used during a speech, the term “enjambment” is generally applied to the study of poetry.





Instructions for the Quiz

Match the term with the definition.