Rhyme and rhyming words are common in English. You might even want to use this technique in your own writing. But how does rhyme work? What types of rhyming are there? And where is it used most often? In this post, we explain the basics.
What Is Rhyme?
Words rhyme when they end with similar or identical sounds to each other:
The catsat on the mat.
The goatboarded the boat.
Here, for example, “cat” rhymes with “mat,” and “goat” rhymes with “boat.”
For a perfect (or full) rhyme, the words need to share a stressed vowel sounds, as well as any sounds after this. This is clearly the case in the single-syllable words above, but it also applies to multi-syllable words (e.g., “seven” and “heaven”).
An imperfect (or half) rhyme, on the other hand, will involve two words that don’t quite meet the conditions for a perfect rhyme. This might be because the stress is different in the words (e.g., “reflect” and “subject” share an “-ect” sound, but the stress in each word falls on a different syllable). Or it might be because two words share similar but non-identical sounds (e.g., “sworn” and “swarm”).
There are other types of rhyme. Assonance and consonance, for instance, focus on repetitions of sounds within words, not just in the final syllable (e.g., “honesty” and “policy,” or “mash” and “dish”). But we will focus on perfect rhymes in this post.
Why Are Rhymes Used For?
Two of the most common uses for rhyme are:
Adding a sense of playfulness, anticipation, and rhythm in creative writing.
Linking ideas or concepts with rhyming words to make them memorable.
The most obvious examples come from poetry and song lyrics, where it is common to end a line with a rhyme. This is because the repetition of sounds is pleasant to the ear and creates a sense of rhythm so that the poem or song flows well.
Many of the nursery rhymes we learn when we are young, for example, have a strong sense of rhythm to them created by the rhyming element:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star How I wonder what you are Up above the world so high Like a diamond in the sky
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These rhyming couplets are a very simple type of rhyme, as you might expect from a children’s song! But you can use rhyme very creatively, varying where rhymes fall and playing with people’s expectations of what will come next.
Outside of poetry, rhymes are also common in mnemonics (i.e., phrases or sayings that work as memory aids). For instance, you might have heard the following:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
This is designed to remind us that Columbus set sail in 1492. And since no other single-digit numbers rhyme with “blue,” we know the year has to end with “two.”
Businesses use rhyming in marketing, too. A famous example of using rhyme in an advertising slogan came from the car company Chevrolet in the 1950s:
See the USA in your Chevrolet!
As well as being catchy, the rhyme here between “USA” and “Chevrolet” helps to connect the two words in people’s minds. The slogan therefore cemented Chevrolet’s reputation as an all-American company.
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