Rhyme Schemes

On this page, you'll find an introduction to rhyme schemes, as well as links to learn about other poetry writing topics. For more creative writing tips, join our writers' email group.

Why rhyme

There are many reasons why you might choose to use rhyme:

  • To give pleasure. Rhyme, done well, is pleasing to the ear. It adds a musical element to the poem, and creates a feeling of "rightness," of pieces fitting together. It also makes a poem easier to memorize, since the rhyme echoes in the reader's mind afterward, like a melody.

  • To deepen meaning. Rhyming two or more words draws attention to them and connects them in the reader's mind.

  • To strengthen form. In many traditional forms, a regular pattern of rhymes are at the ends of the lines. This means that even if the poem is being read out loud, listeners can easily hear where the lines end, can hear the shape of the poem.

Internal rhymes and end rhymes

When the last word in a line of poetry rhymes with the last word in another line, this is called an end rhyme. Many traditional poetry forms use end rhymes.

When words in the middle of a line of poetry rhyme with each other, this is called an internal rhyme. Below is part of a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Can you find the internal rhymes and end rhymes?

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

In this example, "blew"-"flew," and "first"-"burst" are internal rhymes. "Free" and "sea" are end rhymes.

True rhymes and off-rhymes

"Smart" and "art"; "fellow" and "yellow"; "surgery" and perjury" -- these are all examples of true rhymes, or exact rhymes because the final vowel and consonant sounds (or the final syllables in the longer words) are exact matches to the ear.

"Fate" and "saint"; "work" and "spark"; are examples of off-rhymes, or slant-rhymes. In each case, part of the sound matches exactly, but part of it doesn't. Off-rhymes use assonance and consonance:

  • Assonance is a similarity between vowel sounds (the sounds made by your breath, written with the letters a,e,i,o,u,and sometimes y) "Sing,"lean", and "beet" are an example of assonance because they all have a similar "e" sound. Another example is "boat,"bone", and "mole," which all have a similiar "o" sound.

  • Consonance is a similarity between consonant sounds (consonants are the letters that you pronounce with your lips or tongue, not with your breath: b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,q,r,s,t,v,w,x,z and sometimes y). "Lake,"book", and "back" are an example of consonance because they all have the same "K" sounds, even though the vowel sounds in these words are different. When the same consonants are used at the beginning of the word (for example, the words "sing" and "sell"), that is called alliteration.

You might choose to use off-rhymes instead of true rhymes, or in addition to them, to create a subtler effect.

Using off-rhymes also gives you more choices of words to rhyme. This often makes it possible to create more original or surprising rhymes. How many pop songs can you think of that rhyme "heart" with "apart?" And when you hear the words "heaven above" in a song, you can bet that the word "love" is lurking nearby. There are only a few words that rhyme with "love," so they are used over and over again. Off-rhymes can help to remove some of that predictability so that you can come up with more interesting rhyme.

Learn to write both rhymed and unrhymed poems in our online course, Essentials of Poetry Writing.

Rhyme schemes

The pattern of rhymes in a poem is written with the letters a, b, c, d, etc. The first set of lines that rhyme at the end are marked with a. The second set are marked with b. So, in a poem with the rhyme scheme abab, the first line rhymes with the third line, and the second line rhymes with the fourth line. In a poem with the rhyme scheme abcb, the second line rhymes with the fourth line, but the first and third lines don't rhyme with each other.

Here's an example of an abab rhyme scheme from a poem by Robert Herrick:

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Here's an example of an abcb rhyme scheme.

The itsy bitsy spider (a)
Went up the water spout (b)
Down came the rain (c)
And washed the spider out (b)

This one's aabccb:

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
And sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffett away.

Here's a sonnet by Shakespeare. The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; (a)
Coral is far more red than her lips' red; (b)
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;(a)
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.(b)
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,(c)
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;(d)
And in some perfumes is there more delight(c)
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.(d)
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know (e)
That music hath a far more pleasing sound; (f)
I grant I never saw a goddess go; (e)
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: (f)
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare (g)
As any she belied with false compare. (g)

Can you figure out the rhyme scheme in this limerick by Edward Lear (1812-1888)? (Answer below):

There was an old man of the coast
Who placidly sat on a post
But when it was cold
He relinquished his hold
And called for some hot buttered toast.

(Answer: aabba)

Photo credit: Max Lederer @ Unsplash

Rhyme schemes -- what now?

Choose one of the links below.

Click here for poem starters you can use for your own poetry.

Click here to read about different poetry forms.

Join our online course, Essentials of Poetry Writing.

Click here to read about poetry meter and rhythm.

Click here for a menu of CWN pages about how to write poetry.


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