So, is assonance the same as rhyming, you wonder? Actually, no. While rhymes use the same vowel sound, they also end in the same consonant sound. Assonance, on the other hand, uses the same vowel sounds, but not necessarily the same consonant sounds. Let’s dive deeper to make more sense.
What is assonance?
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in non-rhyming words used noticeably close together. More common in poetry, this literary device comes from the Latin phrase assonare which means "to answer with the same sound." It is the sound that counts here rather than the spelling, although it will often be the same letter or pair of letters that are repeated.
The companion technique is consonance, which is repetition of consonant sounds.
Examples of assonance
The following are common sayings or proverbs in the English language. The writer used assonance to make them more memorable without resorting to rhymes.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease." This common saying uses the long e sound (phonetic symbol /i/) to focus readers’ attention. Notice the words don’t rhyme because the consonants at the end are different.
"The early bird catches the worm." This often-used proverb repeats the vowel sound /ɜ/ to capture readers’ awareness.
Assonance is most common in Old English
Old English prose or poetry didn’t rely on rhymes; rather authors used rhythm and meter, consonance, and assonance to give weight to their words. Rhymes in poetry and prose showed up after English was influenced by the Romantic languages like French, Italian, and Spanish.
Rhymes were favored for centuries, but have more recently fallen out of favor. Contemporary poets use assonance, consonance, and alliteration to enhance and flavor their work.
Examples of assonance from Old English
- Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney: "I never heard before of a ship so well furbished with battle tackle…; No wise man in hall or weathered veteran…; Asleep from their feasting…; They wept to heaven…" Consider how battle tackle, weathered veteran, asleep…feasting and wept…heaven repeat vowel sounds, drawing your ear and your attention to word choice. Beowulf is famous for its cadence and sounds, and this translation uses assonance to mimic the original sounds of Old English.
More recent example of assonance
The hip-hop group Doomtree’s song "Bangarang" uses a lot of assonance. Here’s a portion of that song that’s heavy with the literary device.
- "But some punks want to jump up; With a sharp tongue and their fronts up; Like we got here by dumb luck; But they just want to become us."
In fact, in this short example, over a third of the words use a short u sound (phonetic symbol /ʌ/). This example also relies on the consonance of m and n sounds.
Other examples of assonance in literature
As usual, Shakespeare provides the best example of assonance in his "Sonnet 1":
- "His tender heir might bear his memory." Notice the short e sounds (phonetic symbol /e/) throughout.
An interesting example is Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows:
- "The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank." Did you catch the short i sound (phonetic symbol /ɪ/) throughout?
Poetry is rife with assonance, as you can see in this sample from Robert Frost’s "After Apple-Picking":
- "Stem end and blossom end; And every fleck of russet showing clear." Full of short e sounds.
Poets use assonance freely, but music in particular is full of assonance because it lends a rhythm and sound to lyrics. It creates both beauty and mood in all kinds of genres, from hip-hop and rap to jazz and post-rock.
Use assonance to create an aggressive mood or a romantic, soft one. However you wield assonance, use it to infuse your work with rhythm and musicality.