What is assonance? Here's a quick and simple definition:
Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example of assonance is: "Who gave Newt and Scooter the blue tuna? It was too soon!"
Some additional key details about assonance:
Here's how to pronounce assonance: ass-uh-nuhnce
Assonance is identical to another figure of speech called consonance, with one critical difference: assonance has to do with repeated vowel sounds, whereas consonance has to do with repeated consonant sounds.
Alliteration is another figure of speech that involves the repetition of sounds and is related to assonance. Assonance and alliteration differ in two key respects.
In practical terms, these rules mean that assonance can sometimes also be alliteration, but isn't always.
Here are two examples of assonance that is also alliteration. In the first example, the assonance occurs at the beginning of words in the group. In the second example, assonance always occurs on stressed syllables of words (note that the second syllables of the words "decline" and "define" are the stressed syllables):
In the example below, assonance is not also alliteration, because the repeating vowel sound almost never occurs on either the first or stressed syllables (only on "imp" does it do either):
If you read this example aloud, and also read aloud the assonance examples that are alliteration, you'll sense that, while both have repeating vowel sounds, the examples that are also alliteration have a kind of rhythm to them that non-alliterative assonance lacks.
Assonance also plays a role in rhyme. Rhyme is the repetition of identical sounds located at the ends of words. Rhymes can be either repeated consonant sounds or vowel sounds (or combinations of the two). A rhyme, then, can be assonant, but not all rhymes are assonant. Here's an example of assonance functioning as rhyme at the end of lines three and four of the below:
There once was a man named Clark
Whose dog refused to bark
But when he gave the dog pie
It stopped being so shy
And is loud nonstop until dark
Assonance also plays a noticeable role in slant rhyme, a type of rhyme formed by words with sounds that are similar but not identical. Slant rhymes often pair similar vowel sounds with dissimilar consonant sounds, which means that slant rhymes often contain assonance. In the example below from the song "N.Y. State of Mind" the rapper Nas uses assonance to create slant rhymes between the first syllable of "prosperous," the word "cops," and the first syllable of the word "hostages." In addition, the assonance of the "uh" sound in final syllables of "prosperous," "dangerous," and "could just" establishes the slant rhyme that ends with the slightly different vowel sound in "hostages."
And be prosperous, though we live dangerous
Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us, we’re held like hostages
Assonance is common in all sorts of writing, including poetry and prose literature, as well as song lyrics.
In both poetry and prose, assonance's repetition of sound can give language a musical element, as well as emphasize sounds or words that particularly resonate with the ideas or themes of the work. When assonance is also alliterative, it can add rhythm to text, too.
Here, the long-i sound is assonant, and its repetition emphasizes how the sound itself seems to embody the feeling being described, that of longing and sighing—of emotional turmoil. Assonance is particularly useful for this kind of sonic demonstration of feeling.
"O might those sighs and tears returns again ..."
This poem contains both assonance and alliteration. The "ee" sound in "each," "piece," and "meat" slows down that particular sequence, rendering especially vivid the eating of the turtle soup.
"Ted takes you to Chinatown for turtle
Soup, each piece of its floating meat
Wholly disparate ..."
In these lines from Book XII of Lattimore's translation of Homer's Iliad the assonance helps reinforce the lulling effect of the winds' sleep:
"When Zeus ...
stills the winds asleep in the solid drift ..."
The Seafarer is an Old English poem. In Old English poetry, rhyme was much less common, and assonance and consonance much more prevalent. In this translation of the poem by Ezra Pound, the assonance helps to emphasize the "harshness" described in the lines, through the repetition of the "-ar" sound.
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
In this example, the assonance reinforces the repetition of the surname Bon, which is itself the French word for "good," thus drawing a contrast between the continued presence of "goodness" and the "getting rid of" described.
"So it took Charles Bon and his mother to get rid of old Tom, and Charles Bon and the octoroon to get rid of Judith, and Charles Bon and Clytie to get rid of Henry; and Charles Bon's mother and Charles Bon's grandmother got rid of Charles Bon."
In this example from the first chapter of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, the insistence of the repeated "i" sounds intensifies the staccato present in these lines and establishes the narrator's tone—a combination of fear, intense description, and melancholy remembrance.
She got sicker an sicker.
Finally she ast Where it is?
I say God took it.
He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can.
Assonance is also common in song lyrics. It can help to emphasize words and ideas, make connections across lines of lyrics, and when assonance is also alliteration it can help to build rhythm in the lyrics, as well.
Assonance in "Painter in Your Pocket" by Destroyer
"And I'm reminded
of the time that I was blinded
by the sun
It was a welcome change
From the sight of you hanging
Like a willow
In this example, there are two sets of assonant sounds, one set on the long "e" sound, and another on the short "a" sound.
Underneath the bridge
The tarp has sprung a leak
And the animals I've trapped
Have all become my pets
And I'm living off of grass
And the drippings from the ceiling
But it's okay to eat fish
'Cause they don't have any feelings
Eminem uses assonance in complicated ways throughout his songs, giving them additional rhythm and structure. This example from "Without Me" is a good example:
Some vodka that'll jump start my heart quicker
Than a shock when I get shocked at the hospital
By the doctor when I'm not co-operating
When I'm rocking the table while he's operating
Assonance is, fundamentally, an intensifier of language. This intensifying occurs in several senses.