Half Rhyme

Definition of Half Rhyme

Half rhyme employs assonance and consonance to connect words sonically that do not quite rhyme. In regular rhyme, the connected words must have the same vowel sounds and final consonant sounds, such as “bug” and “mug.” Half rhyme generally uses the same vowel sounds with different final consonants or different vowel sounds with the same final consonants. For example, a half rhyme could be “bug” with “bun” or “bug” with “bag.” At times, half rhyme can be subtler than this, with similar vowels and consonants completing the connection, such as the short and long versions of a vowel, or two similar consonants that are not the same. For example, “rush” and “must” have the same vowel and very similar sibilant consonants. “Pun” and “fume” have the short and long versions of the “u” vowel, and both end with a nasal consonant.

There are many names for the same definition of half rhyme. Half rhyme is often also referred to as slant rhyme, and can also be called near rhyme, lazy rhyme, approximate rhyme, inexact rhyme, imperfect rhyme, off rhyme, analyzed rhyme, or suspended rhyme. Each of these terms refers to exactly the same literary device.

Common Examples of Half Rhyme

Half rhyme is especially common in rap music, as it allows for greater flexibility in connecting words. Half rhyme also lets spoken word artists avoid obvious rhymes like “love” with “dove.” Here are some examples of half rhyme from rap music:

  • “I got this killa up inside of me/I can’t talk to my mother so I talk to my diary.”—Scarface
  • “My life owes me. Like an overdose, I’m slowly/Drifting into the arms of trouble, then trouble holds me.”—K-naan
  • “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti/He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready/To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting/What he wrote down. The whole crowd goes so loud/He opens his mouth but the words won’t come out/He’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now/The clock’s run out, time’s up, over — blaow!”—Eminem
  • “And be prosperous, though we live dangerous / Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us, we’re held like hostages.”—Nas

Significance of Half Rhyme in Literature

As mentioned above, one of the key reasons for authors to use half rhyme is to avoid cliched rhymes that do not challenge the reader to think. Half rhyme examples can thus offer a greater versatility with the language. It is also helpful for authors who write in the English language to employ half rhyme, as many English words have no perfect rhyme. Half rhyme can sometimes work in subtler ways than perfect rhyme as well, making the aural connection more satisfying to the listener. Though rhyme used to be very popular in English poetry—almost a necessity for a work to be called a poem—it has fallen out of favor to a great degree, and poets have turned more toward half rhyme in its stead.

Examples of Half Rhyme in Literature

Example #1

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)

For the most part, William Shakespeare used perfect rhymes in his poetry and plays. However, at times he used examples of half rhyme in order to add versatility to his work. In the above excerpt from one of his most famous sonnets, “Sonnet 18,” Shakespeare uses the perfect rhyme of “day” and “May,” while also using the half rhyme of “temperate” and “date.” They do not form a perfect rhyme because the stress in the word “temperate” is on the first syllable.

Example #2

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

(“‘Hope’ is the things with feathers-” by Emily Dickinson)

Emily Dickinson often used perfect rhymes in her poetry, but in her poem “‘Hope’ is the things with feathers-” she also uses an example of half rhyme. Here the words “soul” and “all” both end with the “l” sound, creating an equivalence between them. There is also a subtler half rhyme between “feathers” and “words” with the repetition of the “r” and “s” sounds at the end of each word.

Example #3

My name is Solomon Levi,
the desert is my home,
my mother’s breast was thorny,
and father I had none.

The sands whispered, Be separate,
the stones taught me, Be hard.
I dance, for the joy of surviving,
on the edge of the road.

(“An Old Cracked Tune” by Stanley Kunitz)

There are several examples of half rhyme in this short poem by Stanley Kunitz. There is a similarity between the final vowels of “Levi” and “thorny,” though they are not quite equivalent, and the words “home” and “none” share characteristics such as a final nasal consonant and the eye rhyme of the words looking so similar. The clearest example of half rhyme is in the words “hard” and “road,” which share a final consonant of “d.” There is also an echo of the consonant “r” between the two words, though they are in different places.

Example #4

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,

(“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver)

In the poem “Wild Geese,” Mary Oliver uses some subtle half rhyme examples to connect the ends of these lines. “Mine,” “on,” and “rain” all share the final consonant of “n” with different vowels preceding it. There are also several other words in this short excerpt with the “n” sound, such as “meanwhile,” “sun,” “moving,” and “landscapes.” This repetition creates more unity within the poem.

Example #5

We once watched a crowd
pull a drowned child from the lake.
Blue-lipped and dressed in water’s long green silk
she lay for dead.

(“Cold Knap Lake” by Gillian Clarke)

The above excerpt from Gillian Clarke’s poem “Cold Knap Lake” comprises the first stanza. The dark imagery is further intensified by the subtle half rhymes between the words “crowd” and “dead” and the words “lake” and “silk.” Both of these pairs end with the same consonant, linking them without making an obvious rhyme. (Note: The child is resuscitated later in the poem, for anyone who might be wondering).

Test Your Knowledge of Half Rhyme

1. Which of the following statements is the best half rhyme definition?

A. A rhyme in which the two connected words have the same first consonant sound.
B. A phenomena in which two words have the same vowel sound and final consonant sound.
C. The use of assonance and consonance to connect two similar words, usually with either the same vowel sound and different consonant sounds or with different vowels sounds and the same final consonant.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following two lines from William Blake’s poem “The Tiger” contains an example of half rhyme?

A. Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night

B. What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

C. In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Identify the half rhyme example in the following stanza from Emily Dickinson’s poem “A bird, came down the walk-”:

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –

A. “Abroad” and “head”
B. “Eyes” and “thought”
C. “Frightened” and “Beads”

Answer to Question #3 Show

4. Which of the following pairs of words would create a half rhyme?

A. “Bear” and “rare”
B. “Present” and “presentation”
C. “Train” and “pram”

Answer to Question #4 Show

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