Sound Devices in Poetry

From the Greek phoneme, or sound made, a phoneme is the sound unique to a word to differentiate it from other words. While sounds do not have meanings by themselves, in writing, sounds can clarify, enhance, or point to the meaning of the word. In using sounds, you are making your writing unforgettable, like the lyrics in a song that gets stuck in your head.

Use the following terms when doing a sound check of a poem.

Sound DevicesDescriptionPurpose
OnomatopoeiaWords that imitate the sounds they describe.

bang, boom, ring, hiss, buzz, screech, squeak
Provides an immediate name for a sound.

When at a loss for words, use the sound instead.
AlliterationThe repetition of the sound of the first consonant in the same line of a poem.

“She sells seashells by the sea-shore,”
“Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers.”
Adds rhythm and musicality.
AssonanceThe repetition of the sound of vowel in the stressed syllables of words.

“It beats, it sweeps, what is it?”
“So old, it goes so far back, so old that no one knows.”
Highlights meaning, sets the mood of the poem, and adds rhythm and musicality. It is subtle and not as obvious compared to alliteration.
ConsonanceThe successive repetition of the sound of consonants within a phrase or sentence.

“It creeps and beeps while you sleep.”
“Put the black sack in the back,”
Adds rhythm and musicality, creating a special mood.
DissonanceIntentional use of words that create harsh or clashing sound. It does not create a pattern like assonance and dissonance.

“Let’s get ready to rumble!” “Your eyes pierce my soul.”
Creates an angry, discordant, or conflicted atmosphere.