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What Is a Slant Rhyme?
A slant rhyme is a type of rhyme with words that have similar, but not identical sounds. Most slant rhymes are formed by words with identical consonants and different vowels, or vice versa. “Worm” and “swarm” are examples of slant rhymes. A slant rhyme is also called a half rhyme, near rhyme, sprung rhyme, off rhyme, lazy rhyme, oblique rhyme, or approximate rhyme.
Slant rhyme is also called imperfect rhyme in contrast to perfect rhyme. Perfect rhymes are formed by words with identical stressed vowel sounds. “Sky” and “high” are examples of perfect rhymes. A perfect rhyme is also called an exact rhyme, full rhyme, or true rhyme.
Narrow Versus Broad Definition of a Slant Rhyme
The traditional definition of a slant rhyme is narrower than what it is today. It only referred to words that ended with the same consonants, like “cat” and “hat.” The definition of slant rhyme has broadened over time to focus on the entire last syllable of the word, not just the last consonant of the word. According to broader definitions of slant rhyme, last syllables can have either similar consonant sounds (called consonance) or similar vowel sounds (called assonance).
Slant Rhymes Involving Assonance and Consonance
Assonance is repeating the sound of a vowel in two words that aren’t perfect rhymes. Some slant rhymes have final syllables that share assonance, such as “hat” and “bad” or “crate” and “braid.”
Consonance is repeating the sound of a consonant in two words that aren’t perfect rhymes. Some slant rhymes have final syllables that share consonance, such as “cut” and “mat.” Additionally, a pararhyme is a type of rhyme with words that have the same beginning and ending consonant sounds. “Sold” and “spelled” are examples of pararhymes.
Note that slant rhymes are not the same as assonance or consonance. Slant rhymes may use assonance or consonance at the end of a word, but on their own, the two literary devices can exist anywhere in a word.
3 Reasons Writers Use Slant Rhymes
The use of slant rhyme benefits writers in many ways, including:
- Slant rhymes make poetry and prose sound more cohesive. Repeating a vowel or consonant sound creates a pattern that’s pleasing to the reader’s ear. They may not notice it, because slant rhymes are not as distinct as perfect rhymes, but they make for a more unified and enjoyable reading experience whether the reader realizes it or not.
- Slant rhymes are unexpected. When a poet ends a stanza with a perfect rhyme, they set the expectation that the following stanza will also end with a perfect rhyme. Using a slant rhyme instead catches the reader by surprise and subverts their expectations, delivering a satisfyingly unexpected twist.
- Slant rhymes allow for more creative word choice. When writing in perfect rhymes, poets are limited in which words they can use; the guidelines are more stringent, and the words must match perfectly. But when writing in slant rhymes, there are many more words to choose from, which allows for more creative expression and more exact word choice. Further, some words do not have a perfect rhyme in the English language, so slant rhymes are a solution that still enables you to play with syllables and add variety to your rhyme schemes.
3 Classic Examples of Slant Rhymes
W. B. Yeats, one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, was one of the first poets to use slant rhyme in his work. In “Sailing to Byzantium,” he subtly uses slant rhyme in the words “young,” “song,” and long.” The three don’t rhyme completely, but they share the same vowels.
“That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.”
Emily Dickinson is also known for using slant rhyme in her poetry. In “Not any higher stands the Grave,” she uses a perfect rhyme with “Men” and “Ten” in the first stanza, then breaks expectations by using a slant rhyme with “Queen” and “Afternoon” in the second.
“Not any higher stands the Grave
For Heroes than for Men –
Not any nearer for the Child
Than numb Three Score and Ten –
This latest Leisure equal lulls
The Beggar and his Queen
Propitiate this Democrat
A Summer’s Afternoon –”
The children’s nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy” features slant rhyme with the words “home” and “none.”
“This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home.”
Learn more about reading and writing poetry in US Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s MasterClass.