Writing

Poetry 101: What Is a Rhyme Scheme? Learn About Rhymed Poems with Examples

Written by MasterClass

Apr 23, 2019 • 4 min read

Poetry treats language as an art form. Rhyming poetry takes this to the next level, as one word selected to end a particular line may affect a word selection on a subsequent line. Yet despite the challenges they pose, rhymed poems have endured for untold centuries of human civilization.

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What Is a Rhymed Poem?

A rhymed poem is a work of poetry that contains rhyming vowel sounds at particular moments. (Common vowel sounds are also known as “assonance”—not to be confused with “consonance” which refers to common consonant sounds.) There are many varieties of rhyming poetry within the English language, from sonnets to limericks to nursery rhymes.

Not all poetry rhymes, however. Blank verse, for instance, is a poetic form that features rhythmic rules (such as iambic pentameter) but no rhymes. Free verse makes no requirements for meter or rhyme.

What Are the Different Types of Rhyming Poems?

Rhyming poetry takes many forms. Some of these include:

  • Perfect rhyme. A rhyme where both words share the exact assonance and number of syllables. Also known as an exact rhyme, a full rhyme, or a true rhyme.
  • Slant rhyme. A rhyme formed by words with similar, but not identical, assonance and/or the number of syllables. Also known as a half rhyme, an imperfect rhyme or a near rhyme.
  • Eye rhyme. Two words that look similar on a page, but do not actually rhyme in spoken pronunciation. (Examples include “move” and “love,” or “hour” and “pour.”)
  • Masculine rhyme. A rhyme between the final stressed syllables of two lines.
  • Feminine rhyme. A multi-syllable rhyme where both stressed and unstressed syllables rhyme with their respective counterparts. For instance, the words “crazy” and “lazy” form feminine rhymes. The syllables “cra” and “la” are stressed rhymes, and “zy” and “zy” are unstressed rhymes.
  • End rhymes. These are rhymes that occur between the final words on two particular lines of poetry. End rhymes can be either masculine (for instance “below” and “furlough”) or feminine (for instance “actual” and “factual”).

What Are the Different Types of Rhyme Schemes Used in Poetry?

There are endless numbers of rhyme schemes that may manifest in a poem, but some of the most popular ones include:

  • ABAB
  • ABCB
  • AABBA
  • AABB

The ABAB Rhyme Scheme in Poetry

ABAB rhyme schemes are exemplified by Shakespearean sonnets. These poems feature the following elements:

  • They are fourteen lines long
  • The fourteen lines are divided into four subgroups
  • The first three subgroups have four lines each, which makes them “quatrains,” with the first and third line, and second line and fourth line of each group containing rhyming words—the is the ABAB rhyme scheme
  • Because each quatrain contains its unique set of rhymes, the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet’s first twelve lines is technically ABAB CDCD EFEF
  • The sonnet then concludes with a two-line subgroup, and these two lines rhyme with each other
  • There are typically ten syllables per line, which are phrased in iambic pentameter

The ABAB rhyme scheme of these poems can be observed in the first quatrain of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 14”:

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;—A
And yet methinks I have astronomy,—B
But not to tell of good or evil luck,—A
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;—B

A variation on the ABAB rhyme scheme is the ABCB rhyme scheme, where the second line rhymes with the fourth line, but the first and third lines do not have to rhyme.

The AABBA Rhyme Scheme in Poetry

A limerick exemplifies the AABBA rhyme scheme. All traditional limericks:

  • Consist of a single stanza
  • Consist of exactly five lines
  • Employ one rhyme on the first, second, and fifth lines
  • Employ a second rhyme on the third and fourth lines

Edward Lear wrote many iconic limericks. Among the most famous of these is the opening poem from A Book of Nonsense, his seminal collection first published in 1846:

There was an Old Man with a beard,—A
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!—A
Two Owls and a Hen,—B
Four Larks and a Wren,—B
Have all built their nests in my beard!'—A

The AABB Rhyme Scheme in Poetry

The AABB rhyme scheme features a series of rhyming couplets, where successive lines rhyme before giving way to another pair of rhyming lines. The early American poet Anne Bradstreet was a committed practitioner of this form. The opening lines of her 1678 poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” read:

If ever two were one, then surely we.—A
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;—A
If ever wife was happy in a man,—B
Compare with me ye women if you can.—B

2 Examples of Rhyming Poems

From Shakespearean sonnets to children’s nursery rhymes to popular music, poetry has existed hand-in-hand with rhyming for much of human history.

A standout English language practitioner of rhyming poetry is Robert Louis Stevenson. A Scotsman who also wrote novels and short stories, Stevenson used rhymed poems to great effect, as in 1887’s “Requiem”:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Poets who know how to execute a well-crafted rhyme are all the more likely to see their work endure for generations. For example, the lyrics of popular songs are populated by rhymes. Consider the lyrics to Justin Timberlake’s 2002 hit “Cry Me A River,” produced by Timbaland:

You told me you love me
Why did you leave me all alone
Now you tell me you need me
When you call me on the phone
Girl, I refuse
You must have me confused with some other guy
The bridges were burned
Now it's your turn, to cry

Learn more about reading and writing poetry with US Poet Laureate Billy Collins here.