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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


For the form of ice, see rime ice. For linguistic rime (or rhyme) see syllable rime.

A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words and is most often used in poetry and songs. The word "rhyme" may also refer to a short poem, such as a rhyming couplet or other brief rhyming poem such as nursery rhymes.


The word rime, derived from Old Frankish language *rīm, a Germanic term meaning "series, sequence" attested in Old English (Old English rīm - "enumeration, series, numeral") and Old High German rīm, ultimately cognate to Old Irish rím, Greek ἀριθμός arithmos "number".

The spelling rhyme (from original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period, due to a learned (but etymologically incorrect) association with Greek ῥυθμός (rhythmos).

The older spelling rime survives in Modern English as a rare alternative spelling. A distinction between the spellings is also sometimes made in the study of linguistics and phonology, where rime/rhyme is used to refer to the nucleus and coda of a syllable. In this context, some prefer to spell this rime to separate it from the poetic rhyme covered by this article (see syllable rime).

Types of rhyme

The word rhyme can be used in a specific and a general sense. In the specific sense, two words rhyme if their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical; two lines of poetry rhyme if their final strong positions are filled with rhyming words. A rhyme in the strict sense is also called a perfect rhyme. Examples are sight and flight, deign and gain, madness and sadness.

Perfect rhymes

Perfect rhymes can be classified according to the number of syllables included in the rhyme , which is dictated by the location of the final stressed syllable.

  • masculine: a rhyme in which the stress is on the final syllable of the words. (rhyme, sublime)
  • feminine: a rhyme in which the stress is on the penultimate (second from last) syllable of the words. (picky, tricky)
  • dactylic: a rhyme in which the stress is on the antepenultimate (third from last) syllable (cacophonies, Aristophanes)

General rhymes

In the general sense, rhyme can refer to various kinds of phonetic similarity between words, and to the use of such similar-sounding words in organizing verse. Rhymes in this general sense are classified according to the degree and manner of the phonetic similarity:

  • syllabic: a rhyme in which the last syllable of each word sounds the same but does not necessarily contain vowels. (cleaver, silver, or pitter, patter)
  • imperfect: a rhyme between a stressed and an unstressed syllable. (wing, caring)
  • semirhyme: a rhyme with an extra syllable on one word. (bend, ending)
  • oblique (or slant/forced): a rhyme with an imperfect match in sound. (green, fiend; one, thumb)
  • assonance: matching vowels. (shake, hate) Assonance is sometimes used to refer to slant rhymes.
  • consonance: matching consonants. (rabies, robbers)
  • half rhyme (or sprung rhyme): matching final consonants. (bent, ant)
  • alliteration (or head rhyme): matching initial consonants. (short,ship)

It has already been remarked that in a perfect rhyme the last stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical in both words. If this identity of sound extends further to the left, the rhyme becomes more than perfect. An example of such a "super-rhyme" is the "identical rhyme", in which not only the vowels but also the onsets of the rhyming syllables are identical, as in gun and begun. Punning rhymes such are "bare" and "bear" are also identical rhymes. The rhyme may of course extend even further to the left than the last stressed vowel. If it extends all the way to the beginning of the line, so that we have two lines that sound identical, then it is called "holorhyme" ("For I scream/For ice cream"). Note that "identical rhymes" are sometimes considered worse-rhyming than perfect rhymes, although they match on more letters.

Eye rhyme

Though not strictly rhymes, eye rhymes or sight rhymes refer to similarity in spelling but not in sound, as with cough, bough, or love, move. These are not rhymes in the strict sense, but often were in earlier language periods. For example, "sea" and "grey" rhymed in the early eighteenth century, though now they would make at best an eye rhyme.

Classification by position

The preceding classification has been based on the nature of the rhyme; but we may also classify rhymes according to their position in the verse:

  • tail rhyme (also called end rhyme or rime couée): a rhyme in the final syllable(s) of a verse (the most common kind)
  • When a word at the end of the line rhymes with a word in the interior of the line, it is called an internal rhyme.
  • Holorhyme has already been mentioned, by which not just two individual words, but two entire lines rhyme.

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines in a poem. Internal rhyme is rhyme which occurs within a single line of verse.


The earliest surviving evidence of rhyming is the Chinese Shi Jing (ca. 10th century BC). Rhyme is not used either in the poems of classical antiquity or in the Bible, but is prominent in the Qur'an and other Arabic works.

In Europe, the practice arose only with Late Antiquity, continuing the homoioteleuton of rhetorics. According to some archaic sources, Irish literature introduced the rhyme to Early Medieval Europe, though this is a disputed claim;[1] in the 7th century we find the Irish had brought the art of rhyming verses to a high pitch of perfection. The leonine verse is notable for introducing rhyme into High Medieval literature in the 12th century. From the 12th to the 20th centuries, European poetry is dominated by rhyme.

Rhyme in various languages


See English poetry

Old English poetry is mostly alliterative verse. One of the earliest rhyming poems in English is The Rhyming Poem.

Some words in English, such as "orange", are commonly regarded as having no rhyme. Although a clever poet can get around this (for example, by obliquely rhyming "orange" with combinations of words like "door hinge" or with lesser-known words like "Blorenge", a hill in Wales), it is generally easier to move the word out of rhyming position or replace it with a synonym ("orange" could become "amber").

One view of rhyme in English is from John Milton's preface to Paradise Lost:

The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom...

A more tempered view is taken by W. H. Auden in The Dyer's Hand:

Rhymes, meters, stanza forms, etc., are like servants. If the master is fair enough to win their affection and firm enough to command their respect, the result is an orderly happy household. If he is too tyrannical, they give notice; if he lacks authority, they become slovenly, impertinent, drunk and dishonest.


In French poetry, unlike in English, it is common to have "identical rhymes", in which not only the vowels of the final syllables of the lines rhyme, but their onset consonants ("consonnes d'appui") as well. To the ear of someone accustomed to English verse, this often sounds like a very weak rhyme. For example, an English perfect rhyme of homophones, flour and flower, would seem weak, whereas a French rhyme of homophones doigt and doit is not only acceptable but quite common.

Rhymes are sometimes classified into the categories "rime pauvre" ("poor rhyme"), "rime suffisante" ("sufficient rhyme"), "rime riche" ("rich rhyme") and "rime richissime" ("very rich rhyme"), according to the number of rhyming sounds in the two words or in the parts of the two verses. For example to rhyme "parla" with "sauta" would be a poor rhyme (the words have only the vowel in common), to rhyme "pas" with "bras" a sufficient rhyme (with the vowel and the silent consonant in common), and "tante" with "attente" a rich rhyme (with the vowel, the onset consonant, and the coda consonant with its mute "e" in common). Authorities disagree, however, on exactly where to place the boundaries between the categories.

Holorime is an extreme example of rime richissime spanning an entire verse. Alphonse Allais was a notable exponent of holorime. Here is an example of a holorime couplet from Victor Hugo:

Gall, amant de la Reine, alla (tour magnanime)
Gallamment de l'Arène à la Tour Magne, à Nîmes.
Gallus, the Queen's lover, went (a magnanimous gesture)
Gallantly from the Arena to the Great Tower, at Nîmes.

Classical French rhyme only differs from English rhyme in its different treatment of onset consonants. It also treats coda consonants in a peculiarly French way.

French spelling includes several final letters that are no longer pronounced, and often that have not ever be pronounced. Such final sounds, which were sometimes once pronounced, continue to live a shadowy existence in Classical French versification. They are in almost all of the pre-20th-century French verse texts, but these rhyming rules are almost never taken into account from the 20th century on.

The most important "silent" letter is the "mute e". In spoken French today, final "e" is, in some regional accents (in Paris for example), omitted after consonants; but in Classical French prosody, it was considered an integral part of the rhyme even when following the vowel. "Joue" could rhyme with "boue", but not with "trou". Rhyming words ending with this silent "e" were said to make up a "feminine rhyme", while words not ending with this silent "e" made up a "masculine rhyme". It was a principle of stanza-formation that masculine and feminine rhymes had to alternate in the stanza. All 17th-century French plays in verse alternate masculine and feminine alexandrine couplets.

The "silent" final consonants present a more complex case. They, too, were considered an integral part of the rhyme, so that "pont" could rhyme only with "vont" and not with "long"; but this cannot be reduced to a simple rule about the spelling, since "pont" would also rhyme with "rond" even though one word ends in "t" and the other in "d". This is because the correctness of the rhyme depends not on the spelling on the final consonant, but on how it would have been pronounced. There are a few simple rules that govern word-final consonants in French prosody:

  • The consonants must "rhyme" give or take their voicing. So "d" and "t" rhyme because they differ only in voicing. So too with "g" and "c", and "p" and "b", and also "s" and "z" (and "x"). (Rhyming words ending with a silent "s" "x" or "z" are called "plural rhymes".)
  • Nasal vowels rhyme no matter what their spelling. ("Essaim" can rhyme with "sain", but not with "saint" because the final "t" counts in "saint".)
  • If the word ends in a consonant cluster, only the final consonant counts. ("Temps" rhymes with "lents" because both end in "s".)

In fact, only the "silent" final consonants which would be able to be pronounced the same way, if they were followed by a vowel, are able to rhyme together.


Ancient Hebrew verse generally did not employ rhyme. However, many Jewish liturgical poems rhyme today, because they were written in medieval Europe, where rhymes were in vogue.


Portuguese classifies rhymes in the following manner:

  • rima pobre (poor rhyme): rhyme between words of the same grammatical category (e.g. noun with noun) or between very common endings (-ão, -ar);
  • rima rica (rich rhyme): rhyme between words of different grammatical classes or with uncommon endings;
  • rima preciosa (precious rhyme): rhyme between words with a different morphology, for example estrela (star) with vê-la (to see her);
  • rima esdrúxula (odd rhyme): rhyme between proparoxitonic words (example: última, "last", and vítima, "victim").


See Homoioteleuton rhyme


In Latin rhetoric and poetry homeoteleuton and alliteration were frequently used devices.

Tail rhyme was occasionally used, as in this piece of poetry by Cicero:

O Fortunatam natam me consule Romam.
(O fortunate Rome, to be born with me consul)

But tail rhyme was not used as a prominent structural feature of Latin poetry until it was introduced under the influence of local vernacular traditions in the early Middle Ages. This is the Latin hymn Dies Irae:

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sybilla
(The day of wrath, that day
which will reduce the world to ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sybil.)

Medieval poetry may mix Latin and vernacular languages. Mixing languages in verse or rhyming words in different languages is termed macaronic.


Patterns of rich rhyme (prāsa) play a role in modern Sanskrit poetry, but only to a minor extent in historical Sanskrit texts. They are classified according to their position within the pada (metrical foot): ādiprāsa (first syllable), dvitīyākṣara prāsa (second syllable), antyaprāsa (final syllable) etc.


The Qur’an is written in saj‘, a prosaic genre that uses end rhymes. This particular style was widespread in the Arabic peninsula during the time of the Qur’an's appearance.

Celtic languages

For Welsh, see cynghanedd

Rhyming in the Celtic Languages takes a drastically different course from most other Western rhyming schemes despite strong contact with the Romance patterns. Even today, despite extensive interaction with English and French culture, Celtic rhyme continues to demonstrate native characteristics. Gaelic languages use little true rhyming and prefer assonance or the rhyming of vowel sounds within non-rhyming words. Often, pieces with true rhyming are considered awkward to Gaelic speakers, much in the same way many English speakers find the Irish rhyming pattern. Example of Irish Gaelic rhyme:

Is a Bhríd Óg Ní Mháille / 'S tú d'fhág mo chroí cráite
[is ə vrʲiːdʲ oːɡ nʲiː wɒːlʲə / stuː dɒːɡ mə xriː krɒːtʲə]


There are some unique rhyming schemes in Dravidian languages like Tamil. Specifically, the rhyme called etukai (anaphora) occurs on the second consonant of each line. The effect of etukai, though a little strange at first, rapidly becomes pleasant to the reader, and to the Tamil it is as enjoyable as the end rhyme.

The other rhyme and related patterns are called nai (alliteration), toṭai (epiphora) and iraṭṭai kiḷavi (parallelism).

Some classical Tamil poetry forms, such as veṇpā, have rigid grammars for rhyme to the point that they could be expressed as a context-free grammar.

Function of rhyme

Rhyme has multiple functions. Partly it seems to be enjoyed simply as a repeating pattern that is pleasant to hear. It also serves as a powerful mnemonic device, facilitating memorization. The regular use of tail rhyme helps to mark off the ends of lines, thus clarifying the metrical structure for the listener. As with other poetic techniques, poets use it to suit their own purposes; for example William Shakespeare often used a rhyming couplet to mark off the end of a scene in a play.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller hypothesizes that rhyme is a form of sexually selected handicap imposed on communication making poetry harder and more reliable as a signal of verbal intelligence and overall fitness.[2]

See also


  1. ^ "Article about early Irish literature by prof. Douglas Hyde in The Catholic Encyclopedia"
  2. ^ Miller G (2000) The mating mind: how sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature, London, Heineman, ISBN 0-434-00741-2 (also Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-49516-1)

External links

  • – Free site for finding perfect and imperfect (or "near") rhymes.
  • – Extensive online rhyming dictionary arranged by the number of syllables.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

RHYME, more correctly spelt Rime, from a Provencal word rim (its customary English spelling is due to a confusion with rhythm), a literary ornament or device consisting of an identity of sound in the terminal syllables of two or more words. In the art of versification it signifies the repetition of a sound at the end of two or more lines in a single composition. This artifice was practically unknown to the ancients, and, when it occurs, or seems to occur, in the works of classic Greek and Latin poets, it must be considered to be accidental. The natural tendency of the writer of verse unconsciously to repeat a sound, however, is shown by the fact that there have been discovered nearly one thousand lines in the writings of Virgil where the final syllable rhymes with a central one, thus Bella per Emathios plus quam civilia campos.

It is more than doubtful, however, whether the difference of stress would not prevent this from sounding as a rhyme in an antique ear, and the phenomenon results more from the contingencies of grammar than from intention on the part of the poet. Conscious rhyme belongs to the early medieval periods of monkish literature, and the name given to lines with an intentional rhyme in the middle is Leonine verse, the invention being attributed to a probably apocryphal monk Leoninus or Leonius, who is supposed to be the author of a history of the Old Testament preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris. This "history" is composed in Latin verses, all of which rhyme in the centre. Another very famous poem in Leonine rhyme is the "De Contemptu Mundi" of Bernard of Cluny, which was printed at Bremen in 1595. Rhyme exists to satisfy the ear by the richness of repeated sound. In the beginnings of modern verse, alliteration, a repetition of a consonant, satisfied the listener. A further ornament was discovered when assonance, a repetition of the vowel-sounds, was invented. Finally, both of these were combined to procure a full identity of sound in the entire syllable, and rhyme took its place in prosody. When this identity of sound occurs in the last syllable of a verse it is the typical endrhyme of modern European poetry. Recent criticism has been inclined to look upon the African church-Latin of the age of Tertullian as the starting-point of modern rhyme, and it is probable that the ingenuities of priests, invented to aid worshippers in hearing and singing long pieces of Latin verse in the ritual of the Catholic church produced the earliest conscious poems in rhyme. Moreover, not to give too great importance to the Leonine hexameters which have been mentioned above, it is certain that by the 4th century a school of rhymed sacred poetry had come into existence, classical examples of which we still possess in the "Stabat Mater" and the "Dies Irae." In the course of the middle ages, alliteration, assonance and end-rhyme held the field without a rival in vernacular poetry. There is no such thing, it may broadly be said, as medieval verse in which one or other of these distinguishing ornaments is not employed. After the 14th century, in the north of Europe, and indeed everywhere except in Spain, where assonance held a powerful position, end-rhyme became universal and formed a distinctive indication of metrical construction. It was not until the invention of Blank Verse that rhyme found a modern rival, and in spite of the successes of this instrument rhyme has held its own, at all events for nondramatic verse, in the principal literature of Europe. Certain forms of poetry are almost inconceivable without rhyme. For instance, efforts have been made to compose rhymeless sonnets, but the result has been, either that the piece of blank verse produced is not in any sense a sonnet, or else that by some artifice the appearance of rhyme has been retained. In the heyday of Elizabethan literature a serious attempt was made in England to reject rhyme altogether, and to return to the quantitative measures of the ancients. The prime mover in this heresy was not a poet at all, but a pedantic grammarian of Cambridge, Gabriel Harvey (1545 ?-1630). He considered himself a great innovator, and for a short time he actually seduced no less melodious a poet than Edmund Spenser to abandon rhyme and adopt a system of accented hexameters and trimeters. Spenser even wrote largely in those measures, but the greater portion of his experiments in this kind, of which The Dying Pelican is supposed to have been one, have disappeared. From 1576 to 1579 the genius of Spenser seems to have been obscured by this error of taste, but he shook it off completely when he composed The Shepherd's Calendar. Harvey considered Richard Stonyhurst (1547-1618) the most loyal of his disciples, and this author published in 1582 four books of the Aeneid translated into rhymeless hexameters on Harvey's plan. The result remains, a portent of ugliness and cacophony. A far greater poet, Thomas Campion (1575-1620), returned to the attack, and in a tract published in 1602 advocated the remission of rhyme from lyrical poetry. He, by dint of a prodigious effort, produced some unrhymed odes which were not without charm, but the best critics of the time, such as Daniel, repudiated the innovation, and rhyme continued to have no serious rival except blank verse.

There have, from time to time, been made experiments of a similar nature, notably by Tennyson, but rhyme has retained its sway as an essential ornament of all English poetry which is not in blank verse. There have been not a few poems composed, principally in the nineteenth century, in rhymeless hexameters, and even the elegiac couplet has been attempted. The experiments of Longfellow, Clough, Kingsley and others demand respectful notice, but it is more than doubtful whether any one of these, even the mellifluous Andromeda of the last-named writer, is really in harmony with the national prosody.

In Germany a very determined attack on rhyme was made early in the seventeenth century, particularly by a group of aesthetic critics in the Swiss universities. They attacked rhyme as an artless species of sing-song, which deadened and destroyed the true movement of melody in the rhythm. The argument of this group of critics had a deep influence in German practice, and led to the composition of a vast number of works in unrhymed measures, in few of which, however, is now found a music which justifies the experiment. Lessing recalled the German poets to a sense of the beauty and value of rhyme, but the popularity of Klopstock and his imitators continued to exercise a great influence. Goethe and Schiller, without abandoning rhyme altogether, permitted themselves a great liberty in the employment of unrhymed measures and in imitation of classic metres. This was carried to still greater lengths by Platen and Heine, the rhymeless rhythm of the last of whom was imitated in English verse by Matthew Arnold and others, not without an occasional measure of success. In France, on the other hand, the empire of rhyme has always been triumphant, and in French literature the idea of rhymeless verse can scarcely be said to exist. There the rime pleine or riche, in which not merely the sound but the emphasis is perfectly identical, is insisted upon, and a poet who rhymed as Mrs Browning did, or made "flying" an equivalent in sound to "Zion," would be deemed illiterate.

In French, two species of rhyme are accepted, the feminine and the masculine. Feminine rhymes are those which end in a mute e, masculine those which do not so end. The Alexandrine, which is the classical metre in French, is built up on what are known as rimes croisees, that is to say a couplet of masculine rhymes followed by a couplet of feminine, and that again by masculine. This rule is unknown to the medieval poetry of France.

In Italian literature the excessive abundance and facility of rhyme has led to a rebellion against its use, which is much more reasonable than that of the Germans, whose strenuous language seems to call for an emphatic uniformity of sound. But it was the influence of German aesthetics which forced upon the notice of Leopardi the possibility of introducing rhymeless lyrical measures into Italian verse, an innovation which he carried out with remarkable hardihood and success. The rhymeless odes of Carducci are also worthy of admiration, and may be compared by the student with those of Heine and of Matthew Arnold respectively. Nevertheless, in Italian also, the ear demands the pleasure of the full reiterated sound, and the experiments of the eminent poets who have rejected it have claimed respect rather than sympathy or imitation. At the close of the 19th century, particularly in France, where the rules of rhyme had been most rigid, an effort to modify and minimise these restraints was widely made. There is no doubt that the laws of rhyme, like other artificial regulations, may be too severe, but there is no evidence that the natural beauty which pure rhyme introduces into poetry is losing its hold on the human ear or is in any real danger of being superseded by accent or rhythm.

See Joseph B. Mayer, A Handbook of Modern English Metre (Cambridge, 1903); J. Minor, Neuhochdeutsche Metrik (Strassburg, 1893); J. B. Schutze, Versuch einer Theorie des Reimes nach Inhalt and Form (Magdeburg, 1802). (E. G.)

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Simple English

Rhyme means words that sound the same or similar in their endings. Poems and popular song lyrics often use rhyme. A simple poem can also be called a rhyme.

Many examples of rhyme can be found in folk songs, children's songs, and of course in nursery rhymes. Rhymes at the ends of the lines in a song or poem are normal:

Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet, and so are you.
Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

The counting song

One, two, buckle my shoe,
Three, four, shut the door,
Five, six, pick up sticks,
Seven, eight, lay them straight...

uses "internal rhymes," rhymes that fall within a single line instead of at the end of lines. In another children's poem,

With a knick-knack, paddy-whack, give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home...

knack and whack give another example of internal rhyme. Also, the rhymes at the ends of the lines, bone and home, are not "exact rhymes." Exact rhymes are the same in everything but the first sound. Exact rhymes are the most common type of rhyme and can be formed easily with common sounds in English:

  • pay / day / way / say / may / bay / play / pray / stay ...
  • me / we / be / see / tree / knee ...

Other rhymes are not exact but only similar:

Goosey goosey gander, whither will you wander,
Upstairs, downstairs, in my lady's chamber...

Here, the rhymes are not exact rhymes. Also, gander and wander are "sight rhymes," words that look like rhymes when printed but do not sound quite alike. Sight rhymes are more common in poetry meant to be read, than in songs or verse meant to be sung or spoken aloud and heard by listeners.

Rhymes can be made up of more than one word, as in the short poem Rondeau by James Henry Leigh Hunt:

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your book, put that in:
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

Along with simple normal rhymes, met and get, sad and add, and one internal rhyme, health and wealth, Hunt creates sets of clever two-word rhymes.

Some poets and writers use very unusual rhymes. Well-known examples can be found in the song lyrics to the 1939 MGM film version of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. The lyrics, written by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg, use many odd rhymes, plus internal rhymes, complex rhyme patterns, and other tricks of language. W. S. Gilbert, the lyricist for the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas, wrote the same way. The books of Dr. Seuss are also famous for their many strange rhymes.

Poets who choose to avoid rhyme write in blank verse or free verse.

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