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This article is about the poetic technique. For linguistic rime (or rhyme) see syllable rime.

A rhyme is a repetition of identical or similar terminal sounds in two or more different words and is most often used in poetry. 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 comes from the Old French rime, derived from Old Frankish language *ri:m, a Germanic term meaning "series, sequence" attested in Old English and Old High German, ultimately cognate to Old Irish rím, Greek ἀριθμός arithmos "number".

The spelling rhyme (for original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period, due to a learnèd (but 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).


The earliest surviving evidence of rhyming is the Chinese Shi Jing (ca. 10th century BC). In Europe, the practice arose only with Late Antiquity, continuing the homoioteleuton of rhetorics. Early Irish literature introduced the rhyme to Early Medieval Europe;[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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.

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 can be classified according to the number of syllables included in the rhyme

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

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:

  • 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): a rhyme with an imperfect match in sound. (green, fiend)
  • consonance: matching consonants. (her, dark)
  • half rhyme (or sprung rhyme) is consonance on the final consonants of the words involved
  • assonance: matching vowels. (shake, hate)

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 the 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").

The last type of rhyme is the sight (or eye), or 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 formerly. For example, "sea" and "grey" rhymed in the early eighteenth century, though now they would make at best an eye rhyme.

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 (or end): a rhyme in the final syllable(s) of a verse (the most common kind)
  • When a word at the end of the line rhymes within 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.

Rhyme in English

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 rhyming "orange" with "door hinge"), it is generally easier to move the word out of rhyming position or replace it with a synonym ("orange" could become "amber").

The most famous brief remarks in English on rhyme are John Milton's preface to Paradise Lost, which begins

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...

Rhyme in French

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 common but quite acceptable.

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. 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). The authorities disagree, however, on exactly where to place the boundaries between the categories.

Here is a holorime (an extreme example of rime richissime spanning an entire verse):

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.

Alphonse Allais was a notable exponent of holorime.

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

French spelling includes a lot of final letters that aren't pronounced. The truth is, these were once pronounced, and in Classical French versification these final sounds live a shadowy continued existence.

The most important "silent" letter is the "mute e". In spoken French today, this silent "e" leads a kind of half-life 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.

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" 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".)

All this comes from the fact that the letters that are now silent used to be sounded. These rhyming rules are almost never taken into account from the 20th century on. Still, they are in almost all of the pre-20th century French verse texts. For example all of the French plays in verse of 17th century alternate masculine and feminine alexandrine couplets.

Rhyme in Hebrew

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

Rhyme in Greek

See Homoioteleuton rhyme

Rhyme in Latin

Rhyme was not used in 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

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

Rhyme in Sanskrit

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, AdiprAsa (first syllable), Dwitiyakshara prasa (the second syllable), antyaprAsa (final syllable) etc.

Rhyme in Welsh

See cynghanedd

Rhyme in Tamil

There are some unique rhyming schemes in Dravidian languages like Tamil. Specifically, the rhyme called 'edukai'(anaphora) rhymes on the beginning of subsequent line of a poem. The other rhyme and related patterns are called 'mOnai' (alliteration), 'thodai' (epiphora) and 'irattai kilavi'(parallelism). 'edukai', its effect, a little strange at first, rapidly becomes pleasant to the reader, and to the Tamil it is as enjoyable as the end rhyme.

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

See also

External links

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