What is a Rhyme Scheme? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Definition
  • 3:00 Rhyme Scheme in Sonnets
  • 4:29 Free Verse Poetry
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will examine the topic of rhyme scheme in poetry. Rhyme scheme is a poet's strategy of choosing which lines in poetry will rhyme with each other. Rhyme scheme is purposeful on the poet's part, and it takes skill to achieve.


Rhyme scheme is a poet's deliberate pattern of lines that rhyme with other lines in a poem or a stanza. The rhyme scheme, or pattern, can be identified by giving end words that rhyme with each other the same letter. For instance, take the poem 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star', written by Jane Taylor in 1806.

'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!'

The rhyme scheme of this poem can be determined by looking at the end word in each line. The first line ends in the word 'star', and the second line ends in the word 'are'. Because the two words rhyme, they both are given the letter 'A'. 'A' signifies that we have found the first rhyme in the poem.

The third line ends in the word 'high', and the fourth line ends in 'sky'. These two words don't rhyme with the first two words, 'star' and 'are', so they get the letter 'B'. So far, we have a rhyme scheme of AABB.

Stay with me! It gets easier! The fifth ending word is a repeat, 'star', and so is the sixth end word, 'are'. So, both of these words get the letter 'A', as well. The rhyme scheme for this stanza, or first 'paragraph' of the poem is: AABBAA. Let's see if this poet follows suit in her second stanza of the poem. Yes, there are further stanzas! Most of us just know the first one.

'When the blazing sun is gone,

When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!'

Try to figure out the rhyme scheme yourself. It is kind of like a puzzle. Remember that each time you run into a new end rhyme, you give that line a new letter of the alphabet. What did you come up with? Well, 'gone' and 'upon' don't match any earlier rhymes in the poem, so they both get the letter 'C'. In the same way, 'light' and 'night' follow suit, and being new rhymes, receive the letter 'D'.

So far, the rhyme scheme in the second stanza is: CCDD. But we find a repeat in the final two lines of this second stanza in the words 'star' and 'are'. If we go back to the first stanza, we notice that those words received the letter 'A'. So, the final rhyme scheme for this second stanza is: CCDDAA, and the poem itself has a total rhyme scheme thus far of AABBAA, CCDDAA. It is a little tricky to understand, at first, but it gets easier.

Rhyme Scheme in Sonnets

In Shakespearean sonnets, there is a deliberate rhyme scheme that must be used: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. Here is an example of a Shakespearean sonnet, number 18:

'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (A)

Thou art more lovely and more temperate. (B)

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (A)

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