I. What is Consonance?
Consonance (pronounced ‘CON-so-nance’) is the cunning combination of consistently copied consonants! It’s when the same consonant sound appears repeatedly in a line or sentence, creating a rhythmic effect. This is particularly common in poetry and song lyrics, but it can occur anywhere.
Typically, the letter appears at the beginning of the words, meaning consonance is also an example of alliteration, or a repeated first letter. However, consonance doesn’t have to appear at the beginning of the word or be spelled the same–it just has to be a repeated consonant sound.
As its name suggests, consonance is all about consonant sounds, not vowel sounds. Some people use the word more broadly so that it also includes a series of words beginning with no consonant (beginning with vowels), but the more precise definition includes only proper consonant sounds.
II. Examples of Consonance
Are you asking me to come up with examples of consonance? I’ll seek it out in lyrics and book
This is an example of consonance with very little alliteration. There are many repetitions of the K sound in this line (with various spellings), but very few of them appear at the beginnings of the words. We could call this non-alliterative consonance. Especially remember that spelling is irrelevant; it’s the sound that counts.
“However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition!” (V for Vendetta)
This is a famous example of consonance from the comic book movie V for Vendetta. It comes from a much longer speech almost entirely made up of words starting with the letter V. Most of the consonance in this speech is also alliteration, but there’s also the “v” in “however”; since it appears in the middle of the word, it is not part of the alliteration, but it’s still part of the consonance.
III. The Importance of Consonance
Consonance is like music–a form of expression in sound, without conceptual meaning, but rather a feeling. Some sounds are percussive (like drums) and harsh, like K’s. Others have a more flowing, liquid sound, like F’s and L’s. Depending on which consonant you repeat, you’ll get a different “musical” effect. And create a different feeling.
Consonance can also simply be fun, or a display of cleverness, if perhaps a little silly, such as V’s speech in section 2 above; he doesn’t sound natural or realistic and it’s a little ridiculous, but still impressive. The alliterative consonance in that speech makes it seem theatrical (dramatic) and he’s showing off his intelligence and verbal talent.
The problem with consonance is that it often calls attention to itself, especially when it’s alliterative. It doesn’t sound the way people actually speak. Again, V’s speech is a good example. While it’s very clever, it also sounds unnatural and “performed.” That makes sense for a masked vigilante in a comic book movie, but it wouldn’t work in a more realistic work of fiction.
IV. Examples of Consonance in Literature
Heorot trembled, wonderfully built to withstand the blows, the struggling great bodies beating at its beautiful walls… (Beowulf)
This line describes the great hall at Heorot, where Beowulf makes his first stand against the monster Grendel. There’s plenty of consonance here with all the B’s, but there’s also a secondary consonance; notice how many W’s are in the line as well. Alliteration, consonance, and assonance were especially major parts of Old English epic poetry.
Shipwracking storms and direful thunders break,
So from that spring whence comfort seemed to come
Discomfort swells. Mark, King of Scotland, mark
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth)
There’s plenty of sibilance to be found in this line with all the words starting with S. There’s also a subtler consonance: many C / K sounds (shipwracking, break, comfort, come, discomfort, mark, King, Scotland). This consonance is subtler than the sibilance because it’s not all alliteration.
V. Examples in of Consonance Popular Culture
While customers consume large quantities
Of curiously cultivated curtains
Alongside crowds of crude oils
Crossed and crooked
(from “Sssh” by Apex Theory)
The lyrics to this song have a lot of consonance. Notice that the “Q” is also part of the consonance, even though it’s a different spelling of the “C” / “K” sound. The last two lines have double consonance, since the words all start with a “CR” sound.
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
(from Let It Be by the Beatles)
This line from The Beatles’ song Let It Be has alliteration right at the end (Mother Mary, me), but it also has a more subtle repetition of “m” throughout the line: myself, times, comes.
VI. Related Terms (with examples)
Prosody is musicality of language–the way words work together to create pleasing sounds; it’s similar to the concept of “flow” in hip hop. Consonance is one very common way of creating prosody.
As already mentioned, alliteration is the repetition of any sound at the beginnings of the words in a line or sentence (or nearby lines). Some people consider alliteration to include only consonants, while others include vowels also.
When the repeated sound is an S, this is called “sibilance,” which means “snake-like.” It’s symbolic of the hissing and slithering sounds of a sneaky snake.
Assonance is for vowels what consonance is for consonants; it is the repetition of vowel sounds, usually, but not necessarily at the beginnings of words.