What Is Assonance?

Marjorie McAtee

Assonance is a rhetorical device often used in poetry and prose to add a deeper sense of meaning to the imagery therein. It is usually defined as the repetition of vowel sounds within words or syllables. For example, the words "wait" and "stay" demonstrate assonance with each other because they both contain the same interior vowel sound.

It's believed that poetry readers find assonance both comforting and engaging.
It's believed that poetry readers find assonance both comforting and engaging.

This literary device is different from rhyme, in that rhyme typically involves the use of similar consonant sounds at the ends of words. Writers generally use assonance to make their imagery seem more vivid, to help draw readers into the story, or to add a sense of musicality to a piece of poetry or prose. Readers are believed to find the repetition of similar vowel sounds within words and syllables both comforting and engaging.

The use of repeated vowel sounds within words and syllables is said to appeal to the ear of the reader and establish the writer's artistic authority. Assonance is often found in poetry, where it generally helps the verse flow more smoothly. It is not generally considered an element of poetic form or structure. Instead, it is more often thought of as a extra poetic flourish. The use of assonance in poetry is generally considered to give the poet more creative leeway, and it can allow the poet to create an illusion of structure in free verse poetry, which does not typically follow poetic conventions such as form or structure.

Writers typically employ assonance in conjunction with a variety of other literary and rhetorical devices, such as consonance, or the repetition of consonant sounds within a word or syllable, and alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds in the initial syllables of words. Prose writers often employ rhetorical devices like these to make their prose sound more poetic. Assonance can help prose writers convey the implied meanings of their words, to express moods and emotions that might not be immediately obvious from the dictionary definitions of the words themselves.

Literary devices that manipulate the sounds of words are often especially popular in children's literature and poetry. Children's nursery rhymes may also contain assonance, such as the classic "She sells sea shells by the sea shore." Rhymes such as these generally also employ elements of alliteration and consonance. The repetition of consonant and vowel sounds through the use of these literary devices is believed to contribute to the entertainment value of literature, poetry and rhymes for children.

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Discussion Comments

David09

@nony - I tend to think that assonance is a little more challenging; it does not fall on the human ears as easily as traditional rhyme.

One of the things that I’ve found helpful in this regard is to get hold of a poetry rhyming dictionary. These little volumes will emphasize the rhyme and metering possibilities of everyday words far more easily than a traditional dictionary will.

nony

@chivebasil - I can give you a few examples of assonance from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Bells.” Some of the lines are, “Hear the mellow wedding bells.” Here the words “mellow” and “wedding” demonstrate assonance with the short ‘e’ vowel sound. Note that these are not rhymes in the usual sense of the term, which would require consonants rhyming.

Then you also have these lines from the same poem: “Through the balmy air of night/How they ring out their delight!” Here “night” and “delight” display both assonance and rhyme, using the long ‘i’ sound and the rhyme with the consonants.

So it’s possible to have both rhyme in the usual sense and assonance, or you can just have assonance, which is interior vowel rhyming, but not classical rhyme.

chivebasil

I am still a little confused about how assonance works. Can anyone point me to a famous poem that uses it effectively? I am trying to write an essay about poetry for my high school English class but I have been really confused the whole semester. Anyone that can point out some simple examples would really be helping me out.

tigers88

As an amateur poet myself, I can tell you how hard it is to effectively use assonance. More often than not it is something that you stumble into rather than something you create out of thin air.

The problem, or at least the problem for me, is that it is very heard to maintain both the message of your poem and the particular sound that you express it in. Once I start working on the sound the meaning gets confused and vice versa. I think this is why the giants of poetry are so famous. They achieved something that is really hard to do. I think that even people who don't know a lot about poerty can recognize a great poem when they read one.

ZsaZsa56

Assonance is one of those things that most people don't look for or recognize when they read poetry. But once you become aware of it it is really hard not to notice it in most poems you read afterwards.

Poetry is just as much about sound as meaning. And lots of poems are more beautiful to the ear and tongue than they are given credit for. Poets will tinker endlessly with the rhythm and meter of their poems trying to achieve just the right sound. When it is done well it can be magical.

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