rhyme or rime, the most prominent of the literary artifices used in versification. Although it was used in ancient East Asian poetry, rhyme was practically unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans. With the decline of the classical quantitative meters and the substitution of accentual meters, rhyme began to develop, especially in the sacred Latin poetry of the early Christian church. In the Middle Ages, end rhyme (rhyme at the end of a line), assonance (repetition of related vowel sounds), and alliteration (repetition of consonants, particularly at the beginning of words) were predominant in vernacular verse. After 1300 rhyme came to be the outstanding metrical mark of poetry until the introduction of blank verse in the 16th cent. Alliteration and assonance were both called rhyme by early writers, but today two words are said to rhyme only when the sound of the final accented syllable of one word (placed usually at the end of a line of verse) agrees with the final accented syllable of another word so placed. When the vowels in the final accented syllables of the two rhyming words and the consonants (if any) succeeding the vowel have exactly the same sound, it is called perfect rhyme, e.g., shroud and cloud, mark and bark. Many poets, however, particularly 20th-century poets, use imperfect or approximate rhymes, in which the rhymed vowels and even the consonants might be similar but not identical, e.g., groaned and ground. Two words cannot rhyme unless both are accented on the same syllable. When rhymes are of one syllable or end in a consonant with no mute e following, as sad and bad, they are said to be a single or masculine rhyme. This type predominates in English verse because of the great number of monosyllabic words in the language. When rhymes are of two syllables or, more properly, when they are not accented on the last syllable or end in a final mute e ( able and cable ), they are said to be weak endings, or double, or feminine, rhymes. Feminine rhyme predominates in Spanish and Italian poetry, while German and French use masculine and feminine rhyme equally. Triple rhymes, or three-syllable rhymes, as cheerily and wearily, are less common, especially in serious verse. Rhymes of more than three syllables are rare. Some rhymes, as wind (noun) and kind, are called eye-rhymes (words which are spelled alike but not pronounced alike) and have come into general use through "poetic license." Occasionally the initial words in a line may rhyme; more often there may be a rhyme within the line. Rhymes when used in a set pattern combine with other metrical elements to form such verse structures as the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and the heroic couplet.
See rhyming dictionaries in English (which include discussions of versification) by J. Walker (1775; revised and reprinted frequently), B. Johnson (1931), and C. Wood (1943; 1947); studies by H. Lanz (1968) and E. Guggenheimer (1972).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.