Get Your Premium Membership

Rhyme Schemes: The Pattern of Rhyme

by Suzette Richards

‘He that reads and grows no wiser, seldom suspects his own deficiency, but complains of hard words and obscure sentences, and asks why books are written which cannot be understood.’ ~The Idler, Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

Classical Greek and Latin poets did not use rhyme. A classic Greek poetic metre, Aeolic metre (from the 6th-century BC), was prevalent for many centuries. Blank verse was the choice of verse of English poets. There is strong evidence to suggest that Irish monks had brought developed forms of rhyme to Northern Europe during the 12th-century by means of foundations created by them. Different types of rhyming formats can be traced to specific people, for example, leonine verse is an invented form of rhyming and is traditionally attributed to an apocryphal monk Leonius (aka Leoninus, a Benedictine musician of the 12th-century), who is supposed to be the author of a history of the Old Testament (Historia Sacra) preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, France.

It is advisable to familiarise yourself with the various terminology associated with poetry if you wish to confidently navigate the many available resources. Rhyme refers to the various kinds of phonetic (representing vocal sounds) similarities between words, and the degree to which these devices are used in organised verse. The degree of sound in which the similarity can be identified indicates the type of rhyme used. The pattern of rhyme is referred to as the rhyme scheme. A rhyming poem has the repetition of the same or similar sounds of two or more words, often at the end of the lines. For example, a common rhyme scheme of the four-line verse (a quatrain) is abab—it may consist of many stanzas and it does not necessarily employ metre.

The traditional way to mark these patterns of rhyme is to assign a letter of the alphabet to each rhyming sound at the end of the line. Different notations are favoured by different sources, for example, abab, or a.b.a.b., etc. Most poetic forms would assign letters of the alphabet in lowercase to indicate the rhyme scheme. However, in some instances, for eg, echo verse (abaB, BcbC, CdcD) is where the uppercase letter donates the repetition of the entire line; the Phi poem,* where a combination of lowercase letters and numerals are used to clarify the rhyme scheme; etc.

An example of the notion of a quatrain rhyming aabb:


Sweet trilling of dawn chorus                                —a

The sun’s rays are still porous                              —a

Give dream a few more seconds                          —b

His loving embrace beckons                                 —b


A well-thought-out rhyme scheme can enhance a piece, whereas a too obvious one might well irritate the reader no end, as with an amateurish ditty for an advertising campaign, or one more suitable to a nursery rhyme.

It is conventional in most poetic genres that every stanza (verse) follows the same rhyme scheme though it is possible to have an interlocking rhyme scheme. It is not uncommon for poets to deliberately vary their rhyme schemes. Among the most common rhyme schemes in English, we find the heroic verse and quatrains—these two rhyme schemes are often combined giving us a large variety of poetic forms. Certain poetic forms instruct us not to use rhyme, for example, Suzette Prime;† while others instruct us to only use specific rhyme schemes. Generally speaking, the rhyme scheme employed can be used as an initial means of identification of certain poetic forms, for example, the Florilegium.‡

The location of the rhyme also plays a role in the various poetic formats available to the poet, for example, end rhyme, first-word rhyme, enclosed rhyme, internal rhyme, etc. As an illustration: There are over a hundred authentic sonnet forms, only varying in their rhyme schemes, while retaining the fourteen-line stanza and composition requirements, for example, Suzette sonnet.**

A common pitfall that a poet must be aware of is the overuse of words or phrases, especially when searching for words to rhyme. It is easy to fall into the trap of repeating hackneyed rhyming words, for example, love/dove. A cliché like Achilles’ heel detracts from a poem in general. The overuse of a trope can easily become a cliché. One of the ways to avoid this is to improve your vocabulary. Another pitfall is topics done to death, for example, love poems and poems dealing with seasons—do try to be original. However, guard against the use of aureate words and phrases as I illustrate in the rhyming quatrain below. A phrase should be used sparingly and the actual meaning behind the phrase should be understood and not merely regurgitated. For example, the quote ‘Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.’~Lao Tzu, from his book Tao Te Ching, 6th-century BC. It means that no man can judge wisely if he is ruled by fear—he should let the matter rest until he can judge with a clear head. Guard against using words you are unfamiliar with as some words might have more than one meaning, for example, ‘taenia’.



I wear my legolepsy like a taenia,

but it surely does not include graphomania.

Trying to inspire others, is on occasion

                a floccinaucinihilipilification.





floccinaucinihilipilification: (n) the act of deciding that something is useless—the second longest word in the English dictionary.

graphomania: (n) an obsession with writing.

logolepsy: (n) obsession with words.

taenia: (n) 1. tapeworm parasitic in humans which uses the pig as its intermediate host; 2. a narrow headband or strip of ribbon worn as a headband.


See my earlier articles:

*How to design your own unique poetic form

†Suzette Prime – the story behind it

‡A Rose by Any Other Name: FLORILEGIUM





All rights reserved.

The moral rights of the author have been asserted. 

Copyright © Docendo discimus, Suzette Richards 2021 

ISBN 978-0-620-95432-7