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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Figures of Speech: Sounds


Do you have words in your language that are supposed to show a sound, like a gun going "bang" in English, or a cat saying "meow"?


English has many "figures of speech", words used in an unusual way to create special meanings.

Let's look at four figures of speech that use sound in special ways. They are: onomatopoeia, alliteration, consonance, and assonance.

Onomatopoeia describes a word that is supposed to sound like its meaning, like "bang" and "pop." Others could be "buzz," "slap," "crash," and so on. Animal sounds ("the cat meowed," "the bird chirped") are often onomatopoetic.

Alliteration is when the initial (first) sound of a word is the same. Companies in my hometown include "Best Buys," "Midas Muffler," and "Super Speedy Car Wash." The telephone company's "Yellow Pages" can help us "Find help fast," and the Wall Street Journal calls itself, "The daily diary of the American dream."

Consonance is easy to catch: It's the repetition of consonant (non-vowel) sounds, as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." Note that this is not strictly alliteration, since there are "p"s in the middle of "Piper" and "pepper." The name of my favorite drink uses consonance: Coca-Cola.

Assonance is tougher to find. It is the repetition of vowel sounds within words. Perhaps we like to say "Sesame Street" because of the repeated "ee" sound. (Note the consonance, too.) A local traffic helicopter in Los Angeles is called "The Eye in the Sky."


One article I found online lists over 115 kinds of figures of speech! Most of these have exotic, uncommon names (although the figures themselves might be quite familiar). But also there are quite a few common figures of speech known by most people from their high school English classes. The ones above are examples of these.

Notice that alliteration, assonance, and consonance are all based on use of repeated sounds. There is something pleasing to English users when sounds are repeated. Perhaps that's why they are commonly used in company names and advertising slogans.


Label the examples below with a, b, c, or d.
a. onomatopoeia
b. alliteration
c. consonance
d. assonance

1. Three beekeepers have seen magazines in a tree.
2. Don't slam the door.
3. A man named Tim comes to my meetings.
4. Buying big boxes is the best bargain.
5. A cow says "moo."
6. "The moon rose over an open field" --Paul Simon
7. My sister faxes several signatures systematically.
8. I never need to be nice to my nephew.
9. The kids were splashing in the pool.
10. I draw all knowledge from Socrates.


1. Does your language use any of these figures of speech?
2. Try writing some English sentences that use only one technique. (I tried for the exercises; it was difficult!)
3. Read some English poetry or other literature and try to find examples of these figures of speech.


1. d ("ee" sound); 2. a; 3. c ("m" sound); 4. b ("b" sound); 5. a; 6. d ("oh" sound); 7. c ("s" sound); 8. b ("n" sound); 9. a; 10. d ("ah" sound)

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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