Hey writers, today we’re talking about rhyme scheme. Rhyme scheme is one of the primary features of most poetry, and while not all poetry has to rhyme, it’s always fun when they do! So, we’ll start basic with the definition of rhyme scheme. Then we’ll talk about how to identify a scheme in a poem.
At the bottom of the article, we’ll look at some common types of rhyme schemes and get into some fun examples. And, as a bonus, we’re going to discuss how to use rhyme schemes in Hip Hop and Rap!
So, let’s get started!
Definition of Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern of rhymes in a poem. The sound at the end of each line determines the rhyme scheme—writers label words with letters to identify the rhyming terms, which is how rhyme schemes are defined.
A rhyme scheme only appears in poems that use end rhyme or rhymes at the end of lines. So, not all poetry will have a rhyme scheme. For instance, some forms, like free verse or a prose poem, might not use a rhyme pattern at all.
Other poetry might use rhyme but not at the ends of words or not in a regular pattern. These types of poems will not have a rhyme scheme either.
How to Identify the Rhyme Scheme of a Poem
A poem with a rhyme scheme will always have a regular pattern of end rhymes. That means that words or sounds at the end of each line should rhyme with the ends of other lines.
To identify the pattern, read the poem and label the end of each line with a letter. You’ll start with the letter A and continue through the alphabet until you find two line-ends that rhyme.
You’ll label both those ends with the same letter to indicate that they rhyme.
Here’s an example of how to label a stanza:
Roxanne, Roxanne… (A)
All she wanna do is party all night (B)
Roxanne, Roxanne… (A)
Never gonna love me but it’s alright (B)
Sorry if you’re not a fan of that song; it was playing while I was writing and made coming up with an example a lot easier!
Once you’ve labeled all the lines with a letter, that pattern of letters is the rhyme scheme. So, the pattern of the stanza above would be ABAB. Rhyme schemes also show line breaks between stanzas like this- ABAB BCBC. The space indicates the break.
Not all poetry uses what we call perfect rhyme- words that rhyme with identical sounds. Usually, perfect rhymes are what we think of when we brainstorm rhyming words. An example of perfect rhymes would be taught and fought or sing and ring.
However, there are other types of rhymes we call imperfect. These imperfect rhymes use the repetition of like sounds rather than identical sounds.
Slant rhyme is an example of an imperfect rhyme. Slant rhymes can rhyme using similar, but not identical, vowel or consonant sounds. Similar vowel rhymes are called assonance. Similar consonant sounds are called consonance.
An example of assonance slant rhyme: hat and bad
An example of consonance slant rhyme: hot and mat
Rhyme can get technical, but the critical thing to note is that a rhyme scheme doesn’t require perfect rhymes. Poets will often find similar-sounding words to create an imperfect rhyme. And, when it comes to the rhyme scheme, imperfect rhymes are treated as rhyming words.
An example of Imperfect Rhyme and Rhyme Scheme:
Here is a classic example of imperfect rhyme from the nursery rhyme This Little Piggy:
“This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.”
Here the author uses assonance slant rhyme to rhyme home and none.
These two words have the same vowel sounds, and the rhyme scheme would be ABCB.
Types of Common Rhyme Schemes
If you pay close enough attention, you may notice the same patterns of rhymes popping up in different poems. This repetition is because there are several standard rhyme schemes that poets use for different types of poetry. Let’s go over some of the most popular.
|Alternate Rhyme |
The first and third line rhyme in an alternate rhyme scheme, and the second and fourth line rhyme. The method looks like this:
|ABAB CDCD EFEF|
A ballade is a poem of three eight-line stanzas followed by a four-line stanza. The rhyme scheme appears like this:
A coupled rhyme is a scheme where the verses come in pairs. Each pair of rhymes is called a couplet. The couplets can be new rhymes like AA BB CC, or the couplets are called dueling when they repeat like AA BB AA BB.
|AA BB CC DD |
or AA BB AA
In this rhyme scheme, stanzas connect by rhymes that carry from one stanza to the next.
|ABA BCB CDC |
|Enclosed Rhyme |
In the enclosed rhyme scheme, the first and fourth lines rhyme. The second and third lines rhyme as well, and this is called an internal rhyme.
Poet John Keats used a specific rhyme scheme for his odes that went like this:
Lines one, two, and five rhyme and enclose an internal rhyme in lines three and four.
A monorhyme poem uses the same rhyme throughout the text.
|Simple four-line rhyme |
This poem uses the same rhyme scheme for each four-line stanza:
Terza Rima is an Italian poem made of three line stanzas called tercets. Each tercet connects with an interlocking rhyme like a chain rhyme.
|ABA BCB CDC|
Like the Terza Rima, this form uses tercets. Each set of tercets uses the same rhyme.
A poem made of five tercets and ending with a four-line stanza called a quatrain.
|ABA (five times) ABAA|
Hip Hop: Multis & Inners
Hip Hop artists and Rappers create complex rhyme schemes through techniques called multis and inners. Here is a basic definition of both these techniques. However, I’ll link an in-depth article at the bottom of this section.
Multis is short for multisyllabic rhyme. Rather than rhyming two words, the speaker will rhyme several syllables in two lines or phrases.
Example from Eminem’s Run Rabbit:
Some days I just wanna call it quits
I feel like I’m surrounded by a wall of bricks
Inners are rhymes placed within lines rather than at the end of them. In traditional poetry, we call these internal rhymes. Inners are often multisyllabic rhymes, aka multis.
Combining both techniques, Inner and Multis create complex lyrics that are more exciting than your average poem. There are rhymes on rhymes on rhymes!
Example from Eyedea & Abilities’ Kept:
I keep a choke chain on the people’s thoughts
Teach the whole game how to read between the chalk
Notice the writer also uses slant rhymes like “thoughts” and “chalk.” Using slant rhyme gives the writer liberty to use a much wider choice of words.
Now, what does this look like all together? Well, check out this video where the Genius YouTube channel breaks down a Kendrick Lamar rhyme scheme in real-time:
Examples of Rhyme Scheme in Poetry
Here are two examples of rhyme schemes in poems by Robert Frost and Langston Hughes. Notice that both poets use rhyme in their poetry, but in entirely different ways.
Frost employs a traditional monorhyme that gives his poem a melodic pattern. While Huges, on the other hand, creates a scheme where only two lines rhyme, making the poem unpredictable for the reader.
Robert Frost – The Rose Family
The rose is a rose, (A)
And was always a rose. (A)
But the theory now goes (A)
That the apple’s a rose, (A)
And the pear is, and so’s (A)
The plum, I suppose. (A)
The dear only knows (A)
What will next prove a rose. (A)
You, of course, are a rose – (A)
But were always a rose. (A)
Langston Hughes – So Tired Blues
With the sun in my hand (A)
Gonna throw the sun (B)
Way across the land- (A)
Cause I’m tired, (C)
Tired as I can be (D)
So, that’s all on rhyme scheme for today. For practice, I encourage you to take one of the standard schemes we talked about and write a poem using it. Don’t stress about what the poem means. For today, just create an engaging rhyme scheme!
Continued reading on Rhyme Scheme: