There is more to rhyming than you might expect. This article will teach you how to rhyme, how not to rhyme, and the different kinds of rhymes you will find as you write poems.
The most common type of rhyme in English is what is known as a “perfect rhyme” or “full rhyme.” While there are other kinds of rhymes, such as sight rhymes, slant rhymes, and so on, in this article we will only be discussing perfect rhymes.
A perfect rhyme is when two different words have identical vowel and consonant sounds at their ends, beginning with the vowel of the final stressed syllable, but a different consonant sound on the stressed syllable itself.
For example, cat and hat are single-syllable words where the initial consonant sound is different, but all subsequent sounds—the short “a” and “t”—are the same. Similarly, although delay and away are two-syllable words, they are stressed on the final syllable. They are a perfect rhyme because the initial consonants of the stressed syllables are different, but all subsequent sounds, the long “a” sound, are the same.
These examples not only end with the same sounds, but also with the same letters. However, the letters aren’t important; only the sounds. For example, bite rhymes with height. Even though these words don’t end with the same letters, they both end with the same sounds—a long “i” and a “t”—and have a different initial consonant.
When rhyming words are stressed on the final syllable, like cat/hat, bite/height, and delay/away, this is known as a “masculine rhyme” or “single rhyme.”
By contrast, when the stress is on the second-to-last syllable of pair of rhyming words, this is called a “feminine rhyme” or “double rhyme.”
For example, member rhymes with November because they have the same sounds beginning with the vowel of the stressed syllable, the second syllable from the end. Even though “member” is a two-syllable word and “November” has three syllables, the stressed syllable in each is in the same position relative to the end of the word. That is, these words are both stressed on the second-to-last syllable, making them a double, or feminine, rhyme.
When rhyming words are stressed on the third-to-last syllable, this is known as a “triple rhyme.”
For example, gravity / cavity and hammering / stammering are examples of triple rhymes.
Frequency of Rhymes
In English, single rhymes are by far the most common. There are more single rhymes than double rhymes, and more double rhymes than triple rhymes. Because there are more single rhymes than double or triple rhymes, it is easiest to write poetry using single rhymes. Writing poems with double rhymes is somewhat more difficult and writing with triple rhymes can be downright challenging.
In other words, if you want to make things easy on yourself, it’s best to stick with single and double rhymes. On the other hand, if you are looking for a real challenge, try writing a poem using only triple-rhymes.
The Effect of Rhyming
Rhyming tends to make a poem feel lighter or happier. For this reason, humorous poetry or “light verse” almost always rhymes. By contrast, more serious poems are often written in “free verse” without rhyming, because the contrast of a serious, sad, or tragic subject with the lighthearted feel of rhyming could be somewhat disconcerting.
What is Not a Perfect Rhyme?
There are other instances where words have similar sounds but are not perfect rhymes. Perhaps the most common of these is “assonance,” which means when words have the same vowel sound on the stressed syllable, but not the same subsequent consonants.
For example, steam and mean share the same long “e” sound in the middle but, because they end with different consonant sounds, they are not a perfect rhyme.
Assonance is commonly used in popular songs in place of rhymes because it generally sounds fine when sung and is also easier to write. However, assonance tends to be more noticeable in written verse and is therefore usually avoided in rhyming poetry.
It is also not a perfect rhyme when words end with the same sounds in the final syllable, but not starting with the stress syllable. For example, morning does not rhyme with sing, even though both end with “ing.” This is because “morning” is stressed on the second-to-last syllable, while “sing” is stressed on the last syllable. Instead, this is known as a “wrenched rhyme,” in which a stressed syllable is rhymed with an unstressed syllable.
When writing rhyming poetry, it is usually best to stick with perfect rhymes unless you have a good reason for doing otherwise.
How to Find Rhymes
An easy way to find rhymes is in your head. First figure out what sound or sounds a word ends with. If the word is cat, the sound it ends with is “at”. Once you know what sound a word ends with, try adding new beginnings to the word. For example, how many words can you think of at end with the sound “at”?
Try thinking of every letter in the alphabet, and adding “at” to it. You will come up with a list that includes bat, dat, fat, gat, hat, jat, and so on. Some of these aren’t real words (such as “dat”, “gat” and “jat”), but many of them are, including “fat”, “hat,” and “mat.”
Another way to find words that rhyme is with a rhyming dictionary. In a traditional, printed rhyming dictionary, you would look up “at”, and it would give you a complete list of all words that end with the “at” sound.
In a computerized rhyming dictionary such as rhymenow.com, you can simply type in a word such as “cat” and it will quickly return a list of all the words that rhyme with it.