Definition of Rhyme

Rhyme is a popular literary device in which the repetition of the same or similar sounds occurs in two or more words, usually at the end of lines in poems or songs. In a rhyme in English, the vowel sounds in the stressed syllables are matching, while the preceding consonant sound does not match. The consonants after the stressed syllables must match as well. For example, the words “gaining” and “straining” are rhyming words in English because they start with different consonant sounds, but the first stressed vowel is identical, as is the rest of the word.

Types of Rhyme

There are many different ways to classify rhyme. Many people recognize “perfect rhymes” as the only real type of rhyme. For example, “mind” and “kind” are perfect rhymes, whereas “mind” and “line” are an imperfect match in sounds. Even within the classification of “perfect” rhymes, there are a few different types:

  • Single: This is a rhyme in which the stress is on the final syllable of the words (“mind” and “behind”).
  • Double: This perfect rhyme has the stress on the penultimate, or second-to-last, syllable (“toasting” and “roasting”).
  • Dactylic: This rhyme, relatively uncommon in English, has the stress on the antepenultimate, or third-from-last, syllable (“terrible” and “wearable”).

Here are some other types of general rhymes that are not perfect:

  • Imperfect or near rhyme: In this type of rhyme, the same sounds occur in two words but in unstressed syllables (“thing” and “missing”).
  • Identical rhymes: Homonyms in English don’t satisfy the rules of perfect rhymes because while the vowels are matching, the preceding consonants also match and therefore the rhyme is considered inferior. For example, “way,” “weigh,” and “whey” are identical rhymes and are not considered to be good rhymes. However, in French, this type of rhyming is actually quite popular and has its own classification, rime riche.
  • Eye rhyme: This is common in English because so many of our words are spelled in the same way, yet have different pronunciations. For example, “good” and food” look like they should rhyme, but their vowel sounds are different.

Common Examples of Rhyme

There are plenty of common phrases we say in English that contain rhymes. Here are some examples:

  • See you later, alligator.
  • In a while, crocodile.
  • You’re a poet and you didn’t know it.

There are also many conjugate words that we use in English that are rhymes, such as the following:

  • Hokey-pokey
  • Namby-pamby
  • Itsy-bitsy
  • Teenie-weenie
  • Silly-billy

Children’s songs and poems often contain rhymes, as they make lines easier to remember and pleasant to listen to. The famous children’s author Dr. Seuss made much use of rhyme in his books, such as the following lines:

  • You have brains in your head; you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
  • And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).
  • Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Significance of Rhyme in Literature

Rhyme has played a huge part in literature over many millennia of human existence. The earliest known example is from a Chinese text written in the 10th century BC. Indeed, rhyme has been found in many cultures and many eras. Rhyme also plays different parts in different cultures, holding almost mystical meaning in some cultures. Several religious texts display examples of rhyme, including the Qur’an and the Bible. Interestingly, though, rhyme schemes go in and out of favor. The types of poetry that were once popular in the English language, especially, are no longer very common. For example, in Shakespeare’s day the sonnet form, with its rhyming quatrains and final rhyming couplet was popular (indeed, Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets himself). However, it is very unusual for contemporary poets to adhere to such strict rhyme schemes.

Rhyme is often easy for native speakers in a language to hear. It is used as a literacy skill with young children for them to hear phonemes. Authors often use rhyme to make their lines more memorable and to signal the ends of lines.

Examples of 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)

William Shakespeare includes many rhyme examples in his plays. All of his sonnets followed the very strict sonnet form of containing three rhyming quatrains and one final rhyming couplet. The above excerpt comes from arguably his most famous sonnet, “Sonnet 18.” The opening line is familiar to many English speakers. It is just one of hundreds of examples of rhyme in his works. One interesting note is that due to the way that the sound of English has changed over the past four to five hundred years, some of Shakespeare’s rhymes no longer are perfect rhymes, such as the rhyme between “temperate” and “date.” However, it is easy to hear countless examples of rhymes in his works, such as the words “day” and “May” in this excerpt.

Example #2

Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells–
Bells, bells, bells–
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

(“The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe)

Edgar Allen employed rhyme in many of his poems. In “The Bells,” Poe uses rhyme not only to end lines, but also in the middle of lines, such as his rhyme of “rolling” and “tolling,” in the middle of two adjacent lines. He also uses the rhyme of “moaning” and “groaning” in the same line. This example of rhyme adds to the rhythm of the poem in that it impels the reader forward, just as the tolling of the bells compels the listener to act.

Example #3

Fate hired me once to play a villain’s part.
I did it badly, wasting valued blood;
Now when the call is given to the good
It is that knave who answers in my heart.

(“Between the Acts” by Stanley Kunitz)

Stanley Kunitz had an interesting career in poetry. He was born in 1905 and died in 2006; his poetry changed with the times, paralleling the popularity of strict forms in his early work while his later work was only written in free verse. This short poem, “Between the Acts” was published in 1943 and is still indicative of the first half of his career in which rhyme played a large part. However, he was already turning toward more free verse and less rhyme at this time. In this poem Kunitz rhymes “part” with “heart,” but also uses the near-rhyme “blood” and “good,” which can also be considered an eye rhyme.

Example #4

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

(“Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

Robert Frost is similar to Stanley Kunitz in that he used examples of rhyme in some of his poetry while in others he forewent rhyme altogether. Many of his most famous poems, such as “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Fire and Ice,” and “The Road Not Taken” all contain rhyme. However, other famous poems such as “Mending Wall” and “Birches” do not contain rhyme. In this excerpt, Frost rhymes the words “know,” “though,” and “snow.”

Test Your Knowledge of Rhyme

1. What is the best rhyme definition from the following statements?
A. The repetition of the same or similar sounds in two or more words, often at the end of lines.
B. The repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words.
C. The repetition of the same word at the end of a clause or line.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following lines from Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple Picking” does not rhyme with the others?
A. Magnified apples appear and disappear,
B. Stem end and blossom end,
C. And every fleck of russet showing clear.

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. What kind of perfect rhyme is demonstrated by the words “mystical” and “statistical”?
A. Single
B. Double
C. Dactylic

Answer to Question #3 Show

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