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A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds (usually the exact same phonemes) in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words. Most often, this kind of rhyming (perfect rhyming) is consciously used for a musical or aesthetic effect in the final position of lines within poems or songs. [1] More broadly, a rhyme may also variously refer to other types of similar sounds near the ends of two or more words. Furthermore, the word rhyme has come to be sometimes used as a shorthand term for any brief poem, such as a nursery rhyme or Balliol rhyme.



The word derives from Old French : rime or ryme, which might be derived from Old Frankish : rīm, a Germanic term meaning "series", or "sequence" attested in Old English (Old English: rīm meaning "enumeration", series", or "numeral") and Old High German : rīm, ultimately cognate to Old Irish : rím, Ancient Greek : ἀριθμός (arithmos "number"). Alternatively, the Old French words may derive from Latin : rhythmus, from Ancient Greek : ῥυθμός (rhythmos, rhythm). [2] [3]

The spelling rhyme (from the original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period from a learned (but perhaps etymologically incorrect) association with Latin rhythmus. [2] The older spelling rime survives in Modern English as a rare alternative spelling; cf. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner . A distinction between the spellings is also sometimes made in the study of linguistics and phonology for which rime or rhyme is used to refer to the nucleus and coda of a syllable. Some prefer to spell it rime to distinguish it from the poetic rhyme covered by this article (see syllable rime).

Function of rhyming words

Rhyme partly seems to be enjoyed simply as a repeating pattern that is pleasant to hear. It also serves as a powerful mnemonic device, facilitating memorization[ citation needed ]. 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.

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. Examples are sight and flight, deign and gain, madness and sadness, love and dove.

Perfect rhymes

Perfect rhymes can be classified by the location of the final stressed syllable.

Feminine and dactylic rhymes may also be realized as compound (or mosaic) rhymes (poet, know it).

General rhymes

In the general sense, general 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:

Identical rhymes

Identical rhymes are considered less than perfect in English poetry; but are valued more highly in other literatures such as, for example, rime riche in French poetry.

Though homophones and homonyms satisfy the first condition for rhyming—that is, that the stressed vowel sound is the same—they do not satisfy the second: that the preceding consonant be different. As stated above, in a perfect rhyme the last stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical in both words.

If the sound preceding the stressed vowel is also identical, the rhyme is sometimes considered to be inferior and not a perfect rhyme after all. [4] [5] An example of such a super-rhyme or "more than perfect 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 as bare and bear are also identical rhymes. The rhyme may extend even farther back than the last stressed vowel. If it extends all the way to the beginning of the line, so that there are two lines that sound very similar or identical, it is called a holorhyme ("For I scream/For ice cream").

In poetics these would be considered identity, rather than rhyme.

Eye rhyme

Eye rhymes or sight rhymes or spelling rhymes refer to similarity in spelling but not in sound where the final sounds are spelled identically but pronounced differently. [6] Examples in English are cough, bough, and love, move.

Some early written poetry appears to contain these, but in many cases the words used rhymed at the time of writing, and subsequent changes in pronunciation have meant that the rhyme is now lost.

Mind rhyme

Mind rhyme is a kind of substitution rhyme similar to rhyming slang, but it is less generally codified and is "heard" only when generated by a specific verse context. For instance, "this sugar is neat / and tastes so sour." If a reader or listener thinks of the word "sweet" instead of "sour," a mind rhyme has occurred.

Classification by position

Rhymes may be classified according to their position in the verse:

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines in a poem.


In many languages, including modern European languages and Arabic, poets use rhyme in set patterns as a structural element for specific poetic forms, such as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. Some rhyming schemes have become associated with a specific language, culture or period, while other rhyming schemes have achieved use across languages, cultures or time periods. However, the use of structural rhyme is not universal even within the European tradition. Much modern poetry avoids traditional rhyme schemes.

The earliest surviving evidence of rhyming is the Chinese Shi Jing (ca. 10th century BCE). Rhyme is also occasionally used in the Bible. [7] Classical Greek and Latin poetry did not usually rhyme, [8] but rhyme was used very occasionally. For instance, Catullus includes partial rhymes in the poem Cui dono lepidum novum libellum . [9] The ancient Greeks knew rhyme, and rhymes in The Wasps by Aristophanes are noted by a translator. [10]

Rhyme became a permanent - even obligatory - feature of poetry in Hebrew language, around the 4th century CE. It is found in the Jewish liturgical poetry written in the Byzantine empire era. This was realized by scholars only recently, thanks to the thousands of piyyuts that have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza. It is assumed that the principle of rhyme was transferred from Hebrew liturgical poetry to the poetry of the Syriac Christianity (written in Aramaic), and through this mediation introduced into Latin poetry and then into all other languages of Europe. [11]

Rhyme is central to classical Arabic poetry tracing back to its 6th century pre-Islamic roots. According to some archaic sources, Irish literature introduced the rhyme to Early Medieval Europe, but that is a disputed claim. [12] In the 7th century, 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.

Rhyme entered European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence of the Arabic language in Al Andalus (modern Spain). [13] Arabic language poets used rhyme extensively from the first development of literary Arabic in the sixth century, as in their long, rhyming qasidas. [14]

Since dialects vary and languages change over time, lines that rhyme in a given register or era may not rhyme in another, and it may not be clear whether one should pronounce the words so that they rhyme. An example is this couplet from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus:

Rejoice, O Judah, and in songs divine
With cherubim and seraphim harmonious join. [15]

Rhyme in various languages


Rhymes were widely spread in the Arabian peninsula around the 6th century, in letters, poems and songs, as well as long, rhyming qasidas. [14] In addition, the Quran uses a form of rhymed prose named saj'.

Celtic languages

Rhyming in the Celtic languages takes a drastically different course from most other Western rhyming schemes despite strong contact with the Romance and English patterns. Even today, despite extensive interaction with English and French culture, Celtic rhyme continues to demonstrate native characteristics. Brian Ó Cuív sets out the rules of rhyme in Irish poetry of the classical period: the last stressed vowel and any subsequent long vowels must be identical in order for two words to rhyme. Consonants are grouped into six classes for the purpose of rhyme: they need not be identical, but must belong to the same class. Thus 'b' and 'd' can rhyme (both being 'voiced plosives'), as can 'bh' and 'l' (which are both 'voiced continuants') but 'l', a 'voiced continuant', cannot rhyme with 'ph', a 'voiceless continuant'. Furthermore, "for perfect rhyme a palatalized consonant may be balanced only by a palatalized consonant and a velarized consonant by a velarized one." [16] In the post-Classical period, these rules fell into desuetude, and in popular verse simple assonance often suffices, as can be seen in an example of Irish Gaelic rhyme from the traditional song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille:

Here the vowels are the same, but the consonants, although both palatalized, do not fall into the same class in the bardic rhyming scheme.


Besides the vowel/consonant aspect of rhyming, Chinese rhymes often include tone quality (that is, tonal contour) as an integral linguistic factor in determining rhyme.

Use of rhyme in Classical Chinese poetry typically but not always appears in the form of paired couplets, with end-rhyming in the final syllable of each couplet.

Another important aspect of rhyme in regard to Chinese language studies is the study or reconstruction of past varieties of Chinese, such as Middle Chinese.


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

As stress is important in English, lexical stress is one of the factors that affects the similarity of sounds for the perception of rhyme. Perfect rhyme can be defined as the case when two words rhyme if their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical. [6]

Some words in English, such as "orange" and "silver", are commonly regarded as having no rhyme. Although a clever writer 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 – or the surname Gorringe), it is generally easier to move the word out of rhyming position or replace it with a synonym ("orange" could become "amber", while "silver" could become a combination of "bright and argent"). A skilled orator might be able to tweak the pronunciation of certain words to facilitate a stronger rhyme (for example, pronouncing "orange" as "oringe" to rhyme with "door hinge").

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.

Forced or clumsy rhyme is often a key ingredient of doggerel.


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 ("finger") and doit ("must") or point ("point") and point ("not") is not only acceptable but quite common.

Rhymes are sometimes classified into the categories of "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 "tu" with "vu" 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.

Classical French rhyme not only differs from English rhyme in its different treatment of onset consonants. It also treats coda consonants in a distinctive way.

French spelling includes several final letters that are no longer pronounced and that in many cases have never been pronounced. Such final unpronounced letters continue to affect rhyme according to the rules of Classical French versification. They are encountered 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.[ citation needed ]

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 "double rhyme", while words not ending with this silent "e" made up a "single rhyme". It was a principle of stanza-formation that single and double rhymes had to alternate in the stanza. Virtually all 17th-century French plays in verse alternate masculine and feminine Alexandrin couplets.

The now-silent final consonants present a more complex case. They, too, were traditionally an integral part of the rhyme, such that "pont" rhymed with "vont" but not with "long". (The voicing of consonants was lost in liaison and thus ignored, so "pont" also rhymed with "rond".) There are a few rules that govern most word-final consonants in archaic French pronunciation:


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 Marc Monnier:


Because German phonology features a wide array of vowel sounds, certain imperfect rhymes are widely admitted in German poetry. These include rhyming "e" with "ä" and "ö", rhyming "i" with "ü", rhyming "ei" with "eu" (spelled "äu" in some words) and rhyming a long vowel with its short counterpart.

Some examples of imperfect rhymes (all from Friedrich Schiller's "An die Freude"):


See Homoioteleuton

Ancient Greek poetry is strictly metrical. Rhyme is used, if at all, only as an occasional rhetorical flourish.

The first Greek to write rhyming poetry was the fourteenth-century Cretan Stephanos Sachlikis. Rhyme is now a common fixture of Greek poetry.


Ancient Hebrew rarely employed rhyme, e.g., in Exodus 29 35: ועשית לאהרן ולבניו כָּכה, ככל אשר צויתי אֹתָכה (the identical part in both rhyming words being / 'axa/ ). Rhyme became a permanent - even obligatory - feature of poetry in Hebrew language, around the 4th century CE. It is found in the Jewish liturgical poetry written in the Byzantine empire era. This was realized by scholars only recently, thanks to the thousands of piyyuts that have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza. It is assumed that the principle of rhyme was transferred from Hebrew liturgical poetry to the poetry of the Syriac Christianity (written in Aramaic), and through this mediation introduced into Latin poetry and then into all other languages of Europe. [11]


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:

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 :

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


In Polish literature rhyme was used from the beginning. Unrhymed verse was never popular, although it was sometimes imitated from Latin. Homer's, Virgil's and even Milton's epic poems were furnished with rhymes by Polish translators. [17] Because of paroxytonic accentuation in Polish, feminine rhymes always prevailed. Rules of Polish rhyme were established in 16th century. Then only feminine rhymes were allowed in syllabic verse system. Together with introducing syllabo-accentual metres, masculine rhymes began to occur in Polish poetry. They were most popular at the end of 19th century. The most frequent rhyme scheme in Old Polish (16th - 18th centuries) was couplet AABBCCDD..., but Polish poets, having perfect knowledge of Italian language and literature, experimented with other schemes, among others ottava rima (ABABABCC) and sonnet (ABBA ABBA CDC DCD or ABBA ABBA CDCD EE).

The metre of Mickiewicz's sonnet is the Polish alexandrine (tridecasyllable, in Polish "trzynastozgłoskowiec"): 13(7+6) and its rhymes are feminine: [anu] and [odzi].


Portuguese classifies rhymes in the following manner:


Rhyme was introduced into Russian poetry in the 18th century. Folk poetry had generally been unrhymed, relying more on dactylic line endings for effect. Two words ending in an accented vowel are only considered to rhyme if they share a preceding consonant. Vowel pairs rhyme—even though non-Russian speakers may not perceive them as the same sound. Consonant pairs rhyme if both are devoiced. As in French, formal poetry traditionally alternates between masculine and feminine rhymes.

Early 18th-century poetry demanded perfect rhymes that were also grammatical rhymes—namely that noun endings rhymed with noun endings, verb endings with verb endings, and so on. Such rhymes relying on morphological endings become much rarer in modern Russian poetry, and greater use is made of approximate rhymes. [19]

The rules for rhyming used by Alexander Pushkin and subsequent Russian poets owe much to French verse. The basic rules, as laid out by Vladimir Nabokov in his Notes on Prosody , are as follows:


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.


Spanish mainly differentiates two types of rhymes:

Spanish rhyme is also classified by stress type since different types cannot rhyme with each other:


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 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.


Rhymes are called Qafiya in Urdu. Qafiya has a very important place in Urdu Poetry. Couplet of an Urdu Ghazal is incomplete without a Qafiya. [20] Following is an example of an Urdu couplet from Faiz Ahmed Faiz's ghazal

dono jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke,
wo jaa rahaa hai koi shab e ghum guzaar ke [21]

haar and guzaar are qafiyas in this couplet because of rhyming.


Rhymes are used in Vietnamese to produce similes. The following is an example of a Rhyming Simile:

Nghèo như con mèo
/ŋɛu ɲɯ kɔn mɛu/
"Poor as a cat"

Compare the above Vietnamese example, which is a rhyming simile, to the English phrase "(as) poor as a church mouse", which is only a semantic simile. [22]

See also


  1. "Rhyme". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2024. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012.
  2. 1 2 rhyme, n. Oxford University Press. March 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-15.{{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  3. Harper, Douglas (2000–2012). "Online Etymology Dictionary" . Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  4. "Rhyme, which cites Whitfield's University Rhyming Dictionary, 1951". myclasses.net. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  5. "Rhyming and Songwriting". michael-thomas.com. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  6. 1 2 3 Stillman, Frances (1966). The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary. Thames and Hudson. ISBN   0500270309.
  7. "Old Testament survey: the message, form, and background of the Old Testament pg. 236"
  8. Wesling, Donald (1980). The chances of rhyme . University of California Press. pp. x–xi, 38–42. ISBN   978-0-520-03861-5.
  9. "Bernard of Morlaix - METRE AND RHYME". prosentient.com.au. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  10. Aristophanes; Slavitt, D.R.; Bovie, S.P. (1999). Aristophanes, 2: Wasps, Lysistrata, Frogs, The Sexual Congress. University of Pennsylvania Press, Incorporated. p. 4. ISBN   9780812216844 . Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  11. 1 2 See: Benjamin Harshav (Hrushovski)'s article on Hebrew Prosody in the Encyclopedia Judaica
  12. "Article about early Irish literature by Prof. Douglas Hyde in The Catholic Encyclopedia"
  13. Menocal, Maria Rosa (2003). The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History. University of Pennsylvania. p. 88. ISBN   0-8122-1324-6.
  14. 1 2 Sperl, Stefan, ed. (1996). Qasida poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa. Brill. p. 49. ISBN   978-90-04-10387-0.
  15. Kelly, Thomas Forest (2011). Early Music: A Very Short Introduction, p.83. ISBN   978-0-19-973076-6.
  16. Ó Cuív, Brian (1967). 'The Phonetic Basis of Classical Modern Irish Rhyme'. Ériu 20, pp. 96–97
  17. Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, Mały przewodnik po wierszu polskim, Kraków 2003, p. 19 (in Polish).
  18. "Adam Mickiewicz's Sonnets from the Crimea at Sonnet Central".
  19. Wachtel, Michael (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780511206986.
  20. "उर्दू शायरी में क़ाफ़िया". 11 February 2023.
  21. "Dono jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke". 11 February 2017.
  22. See p. 98 in Thuy Nga Nguyen and Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2012), "Stupid as a Coin: Meaning and Rhyming Similes in Vietnamese", International Journal of Language Studies 6 (4), pp. 97–118.

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