What Is Rhyme Scheme? — Definition, Types & Examples

Malcolm McKinsey
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Malcolm McKinsey
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Paul Mazzola

Rhyme scheme definition

A rhyme scheme is the ordered pattern of rhyming words at the end of each line of a poem. This pattern is labeled using capital letters, such as the common ABAB rhyme scheme, or ABA BCB CDC DED EE for a terza rima, or ABABBCBC for a ballade.

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Types of rhyme scheme

The long history of poetry includes a lot of rhyme, the deliberate correspondence of sounds between words (or their endings) usually at the end of lines in poems. A rhyme scheme is the ordered pattern of those rhyming arrangements from line to line in a poem.

Rhyme scheme definition
Rhyme scheme definition

Here are some different rhyme schemes that are commonly used:

Rhyme Schemes
Type Rhyme Structure Details
Alternate Rhyme ABAB Alternating the rhyming pattern throughout (ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGHG)
Ballade ABABBCBC BCBC Typically comprised of three, eight-line stanzas (ABABBCBC) followed by a four-line stanza (BCBC).
Coupled Rhyme AA BB Pairs the rhymes into couples with new sounds (AA BB CC DD) or dueling sounds (AA BB AA BB)
Enclosed Rhyme ABBA The first line and fourth line rhyme and enclose a pair of new rhymes in the middle. Also called an internal rhyme scheme.
Limerick AABBA A five-line poem that starts with a coupled rhyme scheme but finishes by enclosing lines three and four with a rhyme matching lines one and two.
Monorhyme AAAA Mono is Greek for one – One rhyme throughout each line or throughout the entire poem.
Simple four-line rhyme ABCB Simple pattern that is used throughout the entire poem.
Terza rima ABA BCB Italian poetry made of tercets that use a chain rhyme, where the first and third line of a stanza rhyme with the second line of the previous stanza.
Triplet AAA Set of three lines in a stanza (a tercet) that share the same rhyme
Villanelle ABA (repeat five times), ABAA Comprised of five, three-line stanzas (ABA) and concludes with a quatrain (ABAA)

The human brain has evolved to find rhyme and rhythm very appealing. When words rhyme, we tend to remember them better than words that do not rhyme. Songs that rhyme tend to stick in your head better than free-form songs.

Types of rhyme scheme
Types of rhyme scheme

Song lyrics start as poetry, and rhyme schemes have been connected to poetry for as long as poets, storytellers, and balladeers have been entertained us.

Rhyme scheme examples

The earliest rhyming poetry seems to come from China, in 600 BCE, with “The Book of Songs.” Here is one of the poems:

Plop fall the plums; but there are still seven. Let any gentleman that would court me Come while it is lucky! Plop fall the plums; there are still three. Let any gentleman that would court me Come before it is too late! Plop fall the plums; in shallow baskets we lay them. Any gentleman who would court me Had better speak while there is time.

Notice the second and third lines rhyme (“me” rhymes with “lucky”), but not the first: we use a shorthand, ABB. The next two lines match lines two and three, but the sixth line does not: BBC. The poem finishes with DBE.

Common rhyme schemes

A ballade is a rhyming poem with a defined rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC, seen here in one stanza from Andrew Lang’s “Ballade of the Optimist,” written in 1905:

Heed not the folk who sing or say In sonnet sad or sermon chill, "Alas, alack, and well-a-day, This round world's but a bitter pill." Poor porcupines of fretful quill! Sometimes we quarrel with our lot: We, too, are sad and careful; still We'd rather be alive than not.

terza rima is an Italian rhyming verse stanza form built with an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme is ABA BCB CDC DED, and so on. Here is Robert Frost’s take on the terza rima, “Acquainted With the Night,” published in 1928:

I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain—and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light. I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet When far away an interrupted cry Came over houses from another street, But not to call me back or say good-bye; And further still at an unearthly height, One luminary clock against the sky Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.

The couplet is a familiar rhyme scheme following AA BB CC and continuing. Here is a sliver of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” written around 1400 BCE (first in Middle English, then in modern English):

A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To riden out, he loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honóur, fredom and curteisie. A KNIGHT there was, and that (one was) a worthy man, Who from the time that he first began To ride out, he loved chivalry, Fidelity and good reputation, generosity and courtesy.

A lot of modern poetry is written as free verse, in which the poets deliberately avoid rhyme and meter. Sing-songy children’s poems tend to have very simple rhyming patterns, like this:

Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, Have this wish I wish tonight.

The pattern of rhymes in this anonymously written poem is that all three lines have the same end rhyme: AAA.

Rhyme scheme AAA pattern example
Rhyme scheme AAA pattern example

A nursery rhyme like “Jack and Jill,” by Mother Goose, shows a more complicated rhyming scheme, which we can follow by writing the capital letters at each line’s end:

Jack and Jill went up the hill (A) To fetch a pail of water; (B) Jack fell down and broke his crown, (C) and Jill came tumbling after. (B) Up Jack got, and home did trot, (D) As fast as he could caper, (E) To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob (F) With vinegar and brown paper. (E)

The words “water” and “after” are near-rhymes or slant rhymes and count for the rhyme scheme. The eight-line poem’s rhyme scheme then is ABCB DEFE.

Rhyme scheme jack and jill example
Rhyme scheme jack and jill example

Our ears tend to enjoy predictability spiced with a little bit of unpredictability in both song lyrics and poetry. Shakespearean sonnets follow the rigid rhyming pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG while also staying faithful to iambic pentameter. Here is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 17:

Who will believe my verse in time to come, If it were filled with your most high deserts? Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts. If I could write the beauty of your eyes, And in fresh numbers number all your graces, The age to come would say 'This poet lies; Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.' So should my papers, yellowed with their age, Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue, And your true rights be termed a poet's rage And stretched metre of an antique song: But were some child of yours alive that time, You should live twice, in it, and in my rhyme.

The sonnet form lulls the reader into the steady rhythm of the alternating ABAB, but the last two lines break the pattern and rhyme together: GG. These are rhyming couplets. It is predictability with a surprise new rhyme at the end.

How To Find Rhyme Scheme Of A Poem

To find the rhyming scheme of any poem, study the final words of each line. Use capital letters, starting with AA, for each line. If the first and second lines rhyme, you write AAAA; if they do not, you write ABAB. Continue through the poem, leaving a space between stanzas.

Here is a 1939 nursery rhyme by George Sanders and Clarence Kelley for practice:

I'm a little teapot, Short and stout, Here is my handle Here is my spout When I get all steamed up, Hear me shout, Tip me over and pour me out! I'm a very special teapot, Yes, it's true, Here's an example of what I can do, I can turn my handle into a spout, Tip me over and pour me out!

The first stanza’s rhyme scheme is ABCBDBB. The second stanza’s rhyme scheme is ADDBB.

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Rhyme scheme - little teapot example
Rhyme scheme - little teapot example

Rhyme scheme quiz

Show what you know by answering these questions three:

  1. How would you describe the rhyme scheme of this poem?

    There was a young man so benighted He never knew when he was slighted; He would go to a party And eat just as hearty, As if he'd been really invited.

  2. What is a rhyme pattern?

  3. Please explain in your own words how to determine a rhyme scheme.

You answered, we know, before looking below.

  1. The rhyme scheme of this limerick is AABBA.

  2. A rhyme pattern is the arrangement of rhyming lines. Most people enjoy mixing in a little unpredictability with predictable patterns, so rhyme schemes often have unexpected rhyming patterns, such as with a sonnet or terza rima.

  3. Your explanation of how to determine a rhyme scheme probably mentioned using capital letters at the end of each line to indicate rhyming words, starting with A.