introduction * simple rhyming * not-quite-rhymes * rather-more-than-rhymes * special kinds of rhyme * locations for rhyme

aicill rhyme * alliteration * amphisbaenic rhyme * anarhyme * apocopated rhyme * assonance * bracket consonance * broken rhyme * caudate rhyme * climbing rhyme * compound rhyme * compound fracture rhyme * compound fracture of the leg rhyme * consonance * cross rhyme * cross-rhyme * cumulating verse * cynghanedd * dactylic rhyme * deibide rhyme * dialect rhyme * diminishing verse * domino rhyme * double rhyme * end rhyme * enjambed rhyme * envelope-rhyme * eye rhyme * falling rhyme * feminine rhyme * full rhyme * half-rhyme * head rhyme * hermaphrodite rhyme * historical rhyme * homoioteleuton * identical rhyme * imperfect rhyme  * initial rhyme * interlaced rhyme * internal rhyme * leonine rhyme * light rhyme * linked rhyme * masculine rhyme * mirror rhyme * mosaic rhyme * near rhyme * off-rhyme * omoioteleton * ottava rima * pararhyme * partial rhyme * perfect rhyme * parimion/paroemion * quadruple rhyme * remote rhyming * rhyme royal * rich rhyme * rime couée * rime en kyrielle * rime faible * rime léonine * rime pauvre * rime riche * rime suffisante * rimes alternées * rimes croisées * rimes embrassées * rimes plates * rimes suivies * rising rhyme * schüttelreim * sight rhyme * single rhyme * slant rhyme * tail rhyme * tautological rhyme * terza rima * triple rhyme * trochaic rhyme * true rhyme * unstressed rhyme * virtual rhyme * vowel rhyme * wrenched rhyme * wrenched sense rhyme * wrenched stress rhyme


As you see, there is a lot of terminology in this area. What follows is the result of my attempt to make sense of it all. I'll add new terms as I encounter them, if I think I understand what they mean.

None of these definitions is important. What matters is to write poems that work, and/or (as a reader of poetry) to appreciate what the poet has done. It is not uncommon for a reader to think that a poem is unrhymed, when in fact the poet has worked hard to achieve a kind of rhyme that the reader did not recognise.

Simple rhyming

The idea of rhyme (or, archaically or in French, rime) is simple until you try to define it. My dictionary says in two or more words, identity of sound from the last stressed vowel to the end, the consonant or consonant group preceding not being the same in both or all cases.

The above rather wordy definition of rhyme only includes the simplest and least controversial cases, which we will cover in this section. There are a fair number of useful terms we can define here. First of all, we will sometimes refer to the syllable that contains the last stressed vowel as the tonic syllable

Words like cat, sat and mat obviously rhyme according to our definition. So do bait, hate, great, weight, straight, fête and eyot. Where words of one syllable rhyme in this most obvious of ways, it is called a single rhyme or masculine rhyme. This is also sometimes called a rising rhyme (though a pedant might insist that this required the preceding syllable to be unstressed). 

Words like complete, elite, defeat and mistreat also rhyme, and this is also single or masculine rhyme. The stress is on the last syllable, which is therefore the tonic syllable and the only syllable involved in the rhyming. We can even throw in the 3-syllable word parakeet, and it is still a single rhyme.

Words like fitting, sitting and knitting rhyme. In these 2-syllable words, the stress is on the first syllable and so both syllables are involved in the rhyming. This is called a double rhyme or feminine rhyme or falling rhyme or trochaic rhyme. We can throw in words like transmitting and befitting, where the stress is on the penultimate syllable, and we still have a set of double rhymes.

Words like liable, pliable and viable rhyme. In these 3-syllable words, the stress is on the first syllable and so all three syllables are involved in the rhyming. This is called a triple rhyme or dactylic rhyme or sometimes compound rhyme. It is another form of feminine rhyme and of falling rhyme - even more feminine than a double rhyme, and falling more comprehensively. We can throw in words like reliable and verifiable, where the stress is also on the antepenultimate syllable, and we still have a set of triple rhymes. The effect of triple rhymes tends to be comical, but it does not have to be.

Similarly we could call flourishingly and nourishingly a quadruple rhyme - more feminine and more falling still - but this phenomenon is so rare in English that it is not much use for poetic purposes.

All of the above would be considered perfect rhyme, full rhyme or true rhyme, and by the French to be rime suffisante

Bear in mind that words are not pronounced the same everywhere, or for all time. A Yorkshireman would not agree that "farce" rhymes with "grass"; Americans have disagreed with me about "walk" rhyming with "fork". Poetry written in past centuries may contain rhymes that were perfect when they were written, but are not any more, because of pronunciations having changed. The terms dialect rhyme and historical rhyme are sometimes used in these situations.


There is a variety of terms for a correspondence between words that falls short of perfect rhyme. Such terms include near rhyme, half-rhyme, imperfect rhyme, off-rhyme, partial rhyme, pararhyme and slant rhyme (although the last of these is sometimes used to mean specifically consonance). Most of these terms tend to sound pejorative, but in fact a poet may well deliberately choose to use a rhyme that is less than "perfect". A poem with perfect rhymes and perfect metre throughout can sometimes sound predictable and trite; too tum-ti-tum. Don't you get bored with song lyrics that rhyme love with above? Would you really mind if it was occasionally rhymed instead with enough, or loaf, or leave, or groove, or stuffed, or luck, or off? If you want your less-than-perfect rhyme to sound a more imposing achievement, you can instead call it omoioteleton (or homoioteleuton, or any of several other spellings) - which is just the Greek for "similar ending".

In assonance, the vowels match as in rhyme, but the consonants don't. Examples of assonances are gape with hate, feet with sheep, line with rhyme, gaping with hating (and arguably gaping with hated). Where assonance is used as a substitute for rhyme (i.e. in places, such as the ends of lines, where rhymes would be expected), it is sometimes called vowel rhyme. The French term for this is rime pauvre or rime faible.

In consonance, the consonants match but the vowels don't. This will often be restricted to the final consonant (or consonant cluster) of the stressed syllable e.g. rhyme and scheme, dust and frost, moth and breath, trinket and rankle. Where consonance is used in this way, it is sometimes called consonant rhyme or slant rhyme. Where all the consonants in the stressed syllable match - both fore and aft - this is sometimes called bracket consonance e.g. rhyme with ream, moth with myth, breath with broth, rankle with wrinkled. For an example of bracket consonance used as a substitute for rhyme, see Wilfred Owen's famous war poem Strange Meeting (or any of several other poems by him e.g. Insensibility, Futility and Exposure); for another, see Norman Cameron's Green, Green is El Aghir

A related phenomenon - though much less nearly a rhyme - is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant (or consonant cluster) of a stressed syllable e.g. in the tongue-twister "round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran". Alliteration, rather than rhyme, was the basis of Old English poetry such as Beowulf, but it is not used as a direct substitute for rhyming at the end of lines in modern poetry. [A very similar concept is paroemion or parimion (or any of several other spellings). The difference between alliteration and paroemion is not clear, and seems to vary. It may be that in paroemion, the alliteration specifically affects the initial letters of words (and not other stressed syllables), and/or that there is simply too much of it. Or to some people, the two words are perfect synonyms, apparently.]

The words move, rove and love look as though they ought to rhyme, but in fact they don't. These are called eye rhymes or sight rhymes. Sometimes a poet will use an eye rhyme deliberately; sometimes an eye rhyme results from the reader and the writer coming from different places or different times.

Rhyming a stressed syllable with an unstressed one - e.g. thing and having - is a dubious practice but was once considered respectable. John Donne used to do it. It is sometimes known as light rhyme, or hermaphrodite rhyme, or (despite its lack of virtue) virtual rhyme. (I have also heard this called apocopated rhyme, but apocopated rhyme is really something else). For a long time I was baffled by a number of pages on the web that refer to virtual rhyme as "wrenched rhyme", for I was convinced that that phrase ought to refer to something quite different. It turns out that Peter Dale (a distinguished poet and translator) has produced a categorisation of rhymes, among which he includes wrenched stress rhyme (which is my "virtual rhyme") and wrenched sense rhyme (which is my wrenched rhyme). The two different meanings of the word "wrenched" may well pre-date Mr Dale.

In the Celtic world they have different view of virtual rhyme, however. There is an Irish verse form, the deibide or deibhidhe (pronounced "jayvee"), in which this kind of rhyme is obligatory throughout; it is therefore sometimes known as deibide rhyme. There are also Welsh forms in which this kind of rhyme is positively required e.g. the cywydd deuair hirion, and its little brother the cywydd deuair fyrion

Also dubious is "rhyming" unstressed syllables with one another e.g. risible with farcical. This is called unstressed rhyme.


A possibility which our original definition of rhyme specifically excluded was the matching of the initial consonants of the tonic syllable, in addition to everything else e.g. ring and wring, great and grate, reduce and deduce, dog handler and panhandler. This is known as rich rhyme. For an excellent example of this, see Thomas Hood's A First Attempt at Rhyme. Going a step further, we can have words which are spelt the same and pronounced the same but have different meanings, such as hold (contain) and hold (part of ship), or dyke (ditch) and dyke (mound). The relationship within such pairs is also known as rich rhyme

Where the "rhyming" words are identical in spelling, pronunciation and meaning, we have gone beyond rich rhyme to what is sometimes called identical rhyme or tautological rhyme, and sometimes called cheating. There are verse forms such as the sestina which are based on repetition of the final words of lines, rather than rhyming. 

Where one of the rhyming words contains (phonetically) the whole of the other we have mirror rhyme e.g. start with tart or art, straight with trait or rate or eight or stray or tray or ray or ay. For an example of the use of mirror rhyme, see Paradise by George Herbert (1593-1633). Skelton cites Paradise as an example of Diminishing Verse i.e. the mirror-rhyming words get shorter as the stanza goes on. If they get longer, he calls it Cumulating Verse. In both cases, 3-line stanzas are usual - largely because it's hard to keep it up for any longer than this. 

The French term rime riche, when used in the context of English poetry, is equivalent to rich rhyme. Rime léonine goes further, demanding that one or more syllables preceding the tonic syllable should also be the same e.g. decommission, High Commission. (This is not the same as the English term leonine rhyme.)

When an entire line is repeated, as required by such verse forms as the villanelle, rondel, triolet, pantoum etc, this is known as rime en kyrielle. There is also a verse form called the kyrielle. The name is derived from the Mass, in which the response "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy upon us) is repeated many times.

Special kinds of rhyme

Where several short words are used together to rhyme with one longer one, this is known as mosaic rhyme (or sometimes compound rhyme). An example is this well-known contender for the title of the world's shortest poem:

Lines on the antiquity of microbes
Had 'em.

Broken rhyme - a favourite of Tom Lehrer's - is the device of splitting a word between lines in order to manufacture a rhyme e.g. (my own example!)

Unless you let me split interpol-
ate I'll find no rhymes for purple

(though Roger Miller in his song Dang me had the chutzpah to rhyme purple with maple surple - this is a wrenched rhyme.) For rhymes with orange, see my Ogden Nash parody. Rhymes with silver (the third colour notorious for having none) is a topic I have not addressed yet, although...

Hang on a sec! - If broken, will va-
nilla yield a rhyme for silver

That just leaves month to be dealt with. (I did once rhyme it with ninety-oneth, but perhaps that's cheating.)

Apocopated rhyme is much the same thing as broken rhyme, but done less blatantly e.g.

When last I saw her in the eve-
ning hour I could no more believe.

the difference being that "eve" on its own would make sense. 

A similar phenomenon to broken rhyme is enjambed rhyme, in which the opening consonant of the new line completes the rhyme for the previous line e.g.

She turned away and heaved a sigh -
No trace of love to answer mine

It seems to me that if we combined compound rhyme with broken rhyme, that would produce something we could reasonably call compound fracture rhyme, something like this:

Never trust a jail's inhabit-
ants;  hide stuff before they grab it

(If we could arrange also for the second element of the rhyme - here "grab it" - to be an enjambed rhyme, a case could be made - based on jambe being French for "leg" - for calling the whole phenomenon compound fracture of the leg rhyme. But perhaps that is going too far. Devising an example of this preposterous phenomenon is left as an exercise for the reader.)

A wrenched rhyme is one where the poet is blatantly cheating, usually for comic effect e.g. Tom Lehrer's outrageous use of Harvard and discovered at the end of The Elements. Whether a rhyme appears wrenched or not will sometimes depend on how closely the reader's dialect matches the poet's e.g. when Ogden Nash rhymes turtle with fertile that's seen as (presumably) a perfect rhyme in the US, but as a wrenched rhyme in the UK (where fertile is pronounced the same as fur tile). 

Some people refer to a wrenched rhyme as a wrenched sense rhyme, and use the term wrenched stress rhyme for a different phenomenon. There are also some people who use the phrase wrenched rhyme for that other phenomenon

In Schüttelreim, the last two words of the line swap initial consonants, as in a spoonerism:

I will show no fear
Since there's no foe near.

Anarhyme is an interesting idea which has not yet gained much favour. Here, the "rhyming" lines end with the same three consonants, though not necessarily in the same order e.g. humanity and not me, or honest and sit on.  

In amphisbaenic rhyme the rhyming words are the reverse of one another, either in spelling or in sound e.g. taps/spat, timer/remit, fine/knife. (The "amphisbaena" was a fabulous two-headed snake.)

Locations for rhyme

The most familiar situation is that the rhyming words are each at the end of a line. This is known as end rhyme.

It is possible, though rare, to use initial rhyme, also known as head rhyme, where the rhyming words are each at the beginning of a line. A nice variation is to rhyme the last word of one line with the first word of the next; this is known as linked rhyme.

With internal rhyme, a word from neither the beginning nor the end of a line rhymes with something. The most common form of this is where the "something" is the word at the end of the same line; this is sometimes known as leonine rhyme (NB this is not the same as the French term rime léonine). 

Another form of internal rhyme has a word in the middle of one line rhyming with the the word at the end of a different line; this is sometimes called cross rhyme - which is liable to be confused with cross-rhyme, a particular kind of 4-line stanza. One particular form of cross rhyme, in which the word at the end of one line rhymes with a line in the middle of the next, is common in Irish poetry, where it is known as aicill rhyme. (An Irish friend tells me this is pronounced to rhyme with the English word "tackle".) 

A similar phenomenon in the Far East - certainly in Vietnamese and Burmese forms such as the luc bat and than-bauk - is known as climbing rhyme.

Rhyming a word in the middle of one line with a word in the middle of another is called interlaced rhyme.

It is usual for rhyming words to be close together in a poem, for example at the ends of consecutive lines. The general opinion is that the reader needs to be aware of the rhyme; "a rhyme not felt is not a rhyme".

On the other hand, there are some chained verse forms, such as the pantoum, that require rhymes between the last stanza and the first (which could be pages away). Personally, I like what I call remote rhyming, as in domino rhyme

When the last line of a stanza is short, and rhymes with an earlier short line, but there is a longer line between them, this is called tail rhyme or rime couée, or occasionally caudate rhyme. This phenomenon occurs in such standard forms as the virelai ancien, the Burns stanza, and the (less well-known) Balassi stanza. (According to some authorities, it is also a requirement that each short line should be preceded by a rhyming couplet of longer lines.)

Confused? You won't be...

There are several pairs of terms with confusingly similar names, and a fair number of terms that can have more than one meaning. This section is a clearing house for such confusion. 

Compound rhyme can be a synonym either for mosaic rhyme, or for triple rhyme

Apocopated rhyme is a mild form of broken rhyme, but the term is also sometimes used as a synonym for virtual rhyme.

Cross rhyme can be either a form of internal rhyme, or a particular rhyming scheme for a quatrain. I have tried to distinguish the two by using a hyphen for the rhyming scheme, but that's just my own convention.

Wrenched rhyme properly means (in my opinion) what is sometimes also known as wrenched sense rhyme, but there are those who use it to mean what is also sometimes known as wrenched stress rhyme.

introduction * simple rhyming * not-quite-rhymes * rather-more-than-rhymes * special kinds of rhyme * locations for rhyme

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© Bob Newman 2004, 2005, 2006. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 14/10/2007