There is confusion about the definition of Alliteration and Rhyme. Some people define alliteration as the repetition of consonants, while others restrict alliteration to only the case when two consecutive words begins with the same letter (or something). As a result, I am always in doubt in Poetry exams.

Question: Is there really a true definition for alliteration?

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    When researching my answer for the question Is alliteration adjacent words and/or close together words starting with the same letter? If words between are permitted then how many?, I could not find anything like an official definition. The idea probably sounds alien to literary scholars.
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 2, 2018 at 15:03
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    Official according to whom?
    – muru
    Mar 2, 2018 at 15:19
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    @ChristopheStrobbe That definition you gave "Repeating a consonant sound in close proximity to others, or beginning several words with the same vowel sound." seemed very sound and sensible to me.
    – Fabjaja
    Mar 2, 2018 at 16:57
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    @Fabjaja Maybe, but an "official definition" assumes an official body or some agreed upon standard in the world of literary studies. I never heard of such a thing when I was studying literature at university.
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 2, 2018 at 17:29
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    @ChristopheStrobbe Surely that means this question is answerable - namely with the answer "no, there isn't an official definition" - rather than worthy of closure as POB?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 3, 2018 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is, at least in one context.

If you are talking about most kind of poetry, alliteration is a rhetoric effect. It does not need an exact definition, because what you are interested in is how effective it is in making the poem achieve something. You can set up rules for yourself, but others might follow different rules, while still thinking that they are using alliteration.

However, if you are talking about the old Norse and Anglosaxon poetry, then alliteration do have a definition, since it is part of the metre. Apart from the structure with stressed and unstressed syllables, lines are held together with alliterations. The rules for this are fairly simple:

  1. Each consonant sound alliterate with itself, and only itself.
  2. All vowel sounds alliterate with eachother.

The alliterations can be separated by other words.

I will give an example out of Hávamál, where I've marked the alliterations (the structure is two short lines that alliterate with eachother, then one longer line with an internal alliteration, and then this is repeated):

Deyr fé,
deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn,
at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.

There are more rules for where the words with alliterations should be placed; Snorri's Edda has an entire part dedicated to the different verse forms.


Lars Lönnroth's Den poetiska Eddan has a useful foreword on eddic poetry, which the above is mostly based on. For scaldic poetry, I would suggest a good edition of Snorri's Edda.

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    How does this answer the question whether there is an official definition for alliteration?
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 2, 2018 at 18:56
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    I did not only read the header, but the whole question, which is not concerned so much with "official" as with how it should be defined in general.
    – andejons
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:03

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