We learn about consonants and vowels in elementary school, but what is a consonant in the context of writing? And how do consonants create consonance, which affects the overall style and mood of your text? What types of writing benefit from a careful selection of consonants?
If you have ever been in a choir or taken vocal lessons, you know consonants as those short sounds that connect one vowel sound to another while crooning your tunes. Singers emphasize open vowel sounds because consonants require specific articulation by stopping the air stream in some way.
Are Consonants the Framework of Consonance?
Before we talk about consonance, we have to understand what consonants are. A consonant is a speech sound you produce by blocking your breath with your lips, throat, tongue or teeth. Any sound that is not a vowel is a consonant. When speaking or singing, you cannot sustain the sound or control the volume of most consonants. This inability is why vocalists focus on the vowel sounds of words. In writing, all letters that are not vowels (i.e., A, E, I, O and U) are consonants.
consonance (noun): A literary device using the repetition of similar sounds, particularly consonants, in close sequence to emphasize specific letter sounds within the words
What Are the Essential Elements of Consonance?
You can identify consonance within a piece of writing by looking for key components:
- Consonance is a figure of speech that focuses on repeating sounds. The specific letters you choose are not relevant to this writing method as long as they make the same sound.
- You can place recurring sounds at the beginning, middle or end of your words. The concentration is on the repetition of the sound, not the placement of the letters.
- Consonance can occur in both stressed and unstressed syllables.
- Words containing similar sounds do not need to be directly next to each other. Consonance works effectively as long as the sounds are relatively close to one another in your text.
Choosing words with a lilting, lyrical flow allows readers to linger on the fluidity of sound replication, leaving them longing for more. You can use this stylistic device in any type of written composition.
Repeating sounds at the beginning of words is a type of consonance called alliteration. However, you can place similar sounds anywhere within the terms and texts when you use consonance.
- A flock of ducks kept quacking back at the dock.
- Sylvester slumped against the wall, slid to the floor and slipped into a deep slumber.
- A flash of light created a phantom glow, framing the fridge.
- Zoey’s amazing days at the zoo include lizards, zebras and chimpanzees.
- I wish we had fresh fish to put in my dish.
- Fred figures waffles will be enough food for breakfast on Friday.
Poets often use consonance in poetry to intensify language, add interest, heighten emotion and enhance the imagery. Consider these consonance examples created by well-known poets:
“The Acrobats” by Shel Silverstein
“I’ll swing by my ankles. / She’ll cling to your knees. / As you hang by your nose, / From a high-up trapeze. / But just one thing, please, / As we float through the breeze, / Don’t sneeze.”
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
“He gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake. / The only other sound’s the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake.”
“Poem 315” by Emily Dickinson
“Your breath has time to straighten, / Your brain to bubble cool, / Deals one imperial thunderbolt / That scalps your naked soul.”
Authors use consonance to evoke a feeling and capture the reader’s attention. Here are additional consonance examples in popular works of fiction:
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
“Nearly all joined in singing thishymn, which swelled high about the howling of the storm.”
“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
“Come, he hath hid himself among these trees, / To be consorted with the humorous night: / Blind is his love and best befits the dark.”
“If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark. / Now will he sit under a medlar tree, / And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit / As maidscall medlars, when they laugh alone.”
In addition to old standbys like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “She sells seashells by the seashore,” “Fox in Socks” by Dr. Seuss contains an entire book of funny-sounding words and consonance-heavy rhymes.
“Bim comes. Ben comes. Bimbrings Ben broom. Benbrings Bimbroom. / Benbends Bim‘s broom. Bimbends Ben‘s broom. Bim‘s bends. Ben‘s bends. Ben‘s bent broombreaks. Bim‘s bent broombreaks. / Ben‘s band. Bim‘s band. Big bands. Pig bands. / Bim and Ben lead bands with brooms. Ben‘s band bangs and Bim‘s band booms.”
The rhythmic quality of this literary device makes it ideal for song lyrics.
“Dental Care” by Owl City
“I’d rather pick flowers instead of fights / And rather than flaunt my style / I’d flash you a smile / Of clean pearly whites“
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan
“Maggie comes fleetfoot / Face full of black soot / Talkin’ that the heatput / Plants in the bed but / The phone’stapped anyway”
“We Go Together” from “Grease”
This popular song from “Grease” uses nonsense words to create consonance:
“We go together / Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong / Remembered forever / As shoo-bopsha wadda wadda yippity boomda boom / Changchangchangitty changsha-bop / That’s the way it should be”
Why Do Writers Use Consonance?
Consonance emphasizes groups of words, giving them a rhythmic quality. This literary method creates memorable passages by producing the desired sound to convey an emotion or mood.
Choosing specific sounds builds the intended atmosphere for your writing. Hard consonant sounds can produce a loud, intrusive or energetic feeling. The repeated use of soft sounds can evoke intimacy, mystery or sleepiness. Repetition of letter sounds with a hissing or hushing quality, like “s” or “sh,” generates an inherent whispering sound when speaking the words.
Can Consonance Enhance Your Writing?
Understanding these consonance examples allows you to craft sections of your own prose or poetry with a specific feel. Compose your consonants carefully to construct text or lyrics that grab your reader’s consideration, intensify imagery and convey a particular feeling.