Consonant Sound Effects


When you notice sound effects in texts you must not just simply point them out. Instead you must analyse how sounds are used by the writer to support the effect or Organising Principle that he or she is trying to create.


Consonant Sound Effects:

Here is a poem written by Alexander Pope that makes good use of consonant sound effects:


But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.

When Ajax strives, some rock’s vast weight to throw,

The line, too, labours, and the words move slow;

Not so, when swift Camilla lightly scours the plain,

Flies o’er th’ unbending corn, and skims along the main.


Notice how he chooses words with ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds in the first line to make the reader’s lips work at the hissing noise of the sea, then words with ‘r’ sounds in the second line, making the reader’s throat do some rasping work. These are forceful and vigorous sounds for a physically violent scene.


When he wants to create a calmer effect, he uses words which contain ‘m’ and ‘n’ nasal sounds, produced by letting air out through the nose, not working the tongue, lips, mouth or teeth. These sounds are soothing and mellow, fir for a description of gentle lightness.



Tennyson wanted to create the drowsy heat of a summer day in his poem In Memoriam, so he wrote the following:


The moan of doves in immemorial elms

And the murmuring of innumerable bees


He could have chosen other birds, trees and insects, as well as different adjectives and a verb. Would it have had the same effect if he had written the following?


The croak of crows in timeless oaks

And the buzzing of hundreds of wasps


The sibilance and harsh ‘c’ consonants in the second version make the scene seem much more threatening than the gentle nasal sounds in the first.


Repeating consonant sounds at the start of words is called alliteration. Repeating these sounds within words is called consonance.