Limerick: Definition, Rules & Examples

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  • 0:46 Rules Of The Limerick
  • 1:58 Example Limericks
  • 3:25 Try It Yourself
  • 3:42 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

This lesson reviews closed-form poetry, specifically focusing on limericks. The limerick is defined and the structure is explained. Examples are given to illustrate the format.

Closed-Form Poetry

Poetry is probably the freest literary form. Poets have free rein on their subject matter, word choice, length, and much more. They can switch word order and even stray from Standard English grammar and punctuation rules. However, there are some poets who write poems that keep within certain rules. These poems are called closed-form, or fixed-form poems, since they have a specific format and structure.

One such poem is the limerick. The limerick is a closed-form poem with a light and humorous subject matter. It consists of five lines; the first four set up the joke, and the final line delivers the punch line. Let's look at the specific rules a poet must follow when writing limericks.

Rules of the Limerick

The limerick has a very specific structure. It consists of five lines with the rhyme scheme AABBA. Rhyme scheme is the pattern determining which lines rhyme; a letter of the alphabet represents the rhyming sounds. Rhyme scheme begins with the letter A and uses a new letter for each new ending sound. Thus, in the limerick rhyme scheme AABBA, the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with one another, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.

In addition to the rhyme scheme, each line of a limerick has a certain number of feet, or pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables. The first, second, and fifth lines usually have three feet, while the third and fourth lines only have two feet. This works out to about 8 or 9 syllables and 5 or 6 syllables, respectively. This mostly affects the line length, giving the third and fourth lines a shorter and faster read, as compared to the others.

The structure for the number of feet is often stretched and not always strictly followed. Many poets add in unstressed syllables in order to make a limerick have logical sense, but the general rule should be followed.

Example Limericks

As with most concepts, it's much easier to see how the structure works when looking at an example. Read the following limerick by Laurence Perrine:

The limerick's never averse

To expressing itself in a terse

Economical style,

And yet, all the while,

The limerick's always a verse.

Can you identify the rhyming words? You should be able to see the rhyming words 'averse,' 'terse,' and 'verse,' which make the first, second and fifth lines rhyme, also, 'style' and 'while,' which make the third and fourth lines rhyme.

Thus, Perrine follows the rhyme scheme AABBA.

In addition, you should have noticed the difference in line length, with the third and fourth lines much shorter.

Last, Perrine sticks to a witty concept, actually mocking the very poem style he's writing in.

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