Puns, rhymes and alliteration in writing: The dos and don’ts

This trio of techniques can distract readers if not used properly. Heed this advice.

Alliteration, punning, and rhyming are a trio of tried-and-true techniques for letting your prose out of the pen, introducing levity (perhaps at the expense of brevity). When inadvertently applied, however, they can distract readers because their use is inconsistent with a writer’s tone, or because the application is excessive. Here are some comments about proper and improper use of these writers’ tools.

1. Alliteration

I enjoy reading and writing alliterative prose. When overused, alliteration can backfire, because it might lead readers to focus on the messenger rather than on the message. In moderation, however, it is a proven strategy for entertaining while informing. But it is rarely appropriate for formal writing or when a serious tone is required, so be careful not to introduce it on purpose or by accident in such contexts, such as in the statement “There are multiple methods for maintaining mortality records.”

2. Pun

Away from the keyboard, I’m an unrepentant punster, but because punning is the most intrusive of these three techniques, I generally avoid it in writing; even in light-hearted content, it can be obtrusive. Beware of unintended punning in such remarks as “If we were in his shoes, we’d sell our souls for the opportunity,” where readers might read souls as soles.

A related, and more fraught, problem is carelessness about accidental double entendres. I’ll leave specifics to your imagination, but any review of one’s writing should include vigilant attention to the possible presence of words or phrases with risqué connotations.

3. Rhyming

Deliberate rhyming in prose is less common than employing alliteration or puns, though it’s appropriate in specialized cases such as mimicking Dr. Seuss in order to emphasize the absurdity of a phenomenon. But take care not to release sober but accidentally silly written remarks like “In the weeks before the election, pundits had a predilection for overemphasizing the offhand remark.”

A version of this article first appeared on DailyWritingTips.com.

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One Response to “Puns, rhymes and alliteration in writing: The dos and don’ts”

    Stewart Hanick says:

    I had started in the last 30 min or so of beginning my comment in this space, but it may have got lost or deleted,and I know , It wasn’t tweeted…so my apologies, if you did actually receive it, I attempted to retrieve it, and so I’m going to try to recreate it now.

    It deals with the fact, that in the last month or so, I have become, what would be considered a prolific rhymer. As I mentioned, my intention, was not to be a bragger, nor a carpet-bagger, as I have proof, here at hand. I further explained, that I am of the belief, that my afflcation/ or if you prefer my verbal addiction, has been triggered by the very recent and unexpected loss of 1 of my sons.. My brain has no doubt been re-wired, no batteries required, as my way or attempting to cope with my grief.. in some cases, I consider it my comic-relief! Anything and evrything has become grist for the mill, and I’m. kinda in awe, of the words endlessly spill..again, I’m not crowing, or show-boating…just the honest facts… Recent subjects include serious issues, like the day I was tasked with collecting my son’s ashes, “A day like no other”, to the very mundane, ( by the way, in Jan., I am off to lovely Spain)like what my day was like, actually started earlier today, and then also, I’ve recently sent birtday wishes, kandy-kisses, and on and on it goes..constantly. I sometimes wake up very early, just a bit squirrly, and it starts up anew, I”m quite puzzled, as to what I should do, other than to soldier through… Even in conversation or recreation, or when I’ m reading, though never tweeting, my mind starts silently converting words into ryhme, I assume it’s not a punishable crime,lest I have to do hard time. So I’m continually in the rhyme-scheme, which has got to be better, than a suspect at a. crime-scene…I’m very certain, you fully understand just what I mean…
    Here’s a rather quick 1( in comparison) that was written just this mourn..(sic)

    I woke up( didn’t choke up) early,
    In the fetal position
    Do you think this implies, I should contact my physician,?
    Or perhaps you can recommend a nocturnal magician..
    Here’s wishing!
    And on and on it goes,…currently in the process of honing and crafting dozens of pages, that is about out-of-hand..not sure if I should deem this, something that’s grand.

    So, @ long-last…2 questions..
    I believe I’ve read an article about people who spontaneously start in rhyming…Is that so? Or is this a projection, for my own protection, to deal with my dejection?sorry..told you it was continuous…just between the 2 of us…
    Secondly, is there somewhereI can submit my writing, and have it evaluated? Page after page and still it continues to grow.
    Not sure what to to make of this new-found affliction, so I”ll just chalk it up to a verbal-addiction….I honestly could continue this flow, but 1 last thing before I go…have you seen Rio d’jeinero,? I think that would be a thrill..
    I’ m guessing. you already know it’s near the equator, in the country that is better-known as …….
    Thank you for lending an ear, with the good lords blessing, I hope you”ll soon have a most happy New-Year! Yes ..I do!. Any feed-back, will be greatly appreciated . Over and just bout out..apparently it’s after 3 in the AM. Feel free to lend it..
    The very last thing to do, is just go ahead and send it..so I shall.. Here it goes🐒

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