A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhymes at the end of each line of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme; lines designated with the same letter all rhyme with each other.
An example of the "abab" rhyming scheme, from To Anthea, who may Command him Anything, written by Robert Herrick:
Function in writing
A basic distinction is between rhyme schemes that apply to a single stanza, and those that continue their pattern throughout an entire poem (see chain rhyme). There are also more elaborate related forms, like the sestina – which requires repetition of exact words in a complex pattern.
In English, highly repetitive rhyme schemes are unusual. English has more vowel sounds than Italian, for example, meaning that such a scheme would be far more restrictive for an English writer than an Italian one, as there are fewer suitable words to match a given pattern. Even such schemes as the terza rima ("aba bcb cdc ded..."), used by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy, have been considered too difficult for English.
- Alternate rhyme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH...
- Ballade: Three stanzas of "ABABBCBC" followed by "BCBC".
- Boy Named Sue: A,A,B,C,C,(B, or infrequently D).
- Chant royal: Five stanzas of "ababccddedE" followed by either "ddedE" or "ccddedE". (The capital letters indicate a line repeated verbatim.)
- Cinquain: "A,B,A,B,B"
- Clerihew: "A,A,B,B"
- Couplet: "A,A", but usually occurs as "A,A, B,B C,C D,D ..."
- Enclosed rhyme (or enclosing rhyme): "ABBA"
- "Fire and Ice" stanza: "ABAABCBCB" as used in Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice"
- Keatsian Ode: "ABABCDECDE" used in Keat's Ode on Indolence, Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Ode to a Nightingale.
- Limerick: "AABBA"
- Monorhyme: "A,A,A,A,A...", an identical rhyme on every line, common in Latin and Arabic
- Onegin stanzas: "aBaBccDDeFFeGG" with the lowercase letters representing feminine rhymes and the uppercase representing masculine rhymes, written in iambic tetrameter
- Ottava rima: "A,B,A,B,A,B,C,C"
- The Raven stanza: "ABCBBB", or "AA,B,CC,CB,B,B" when accounting for internal rhyme, as used by Edgar Allan Poe in "The Raven"
- Rhyme royal: "ABABBCC"
- The Road Not Taken stanza: "ABAAB" as used in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, and in Glæde over Danmark by Poul Martin Møller (English translation here).
- Rondeau: "ABaAabAB"
- Rondelet: "AbAabbA"
- Rubaiyat: "AABA"
- Scottish stanza: "AAABAB", as used by Robert Burns in works such as "To a Mouse"
- Sestina: ABCDEF FAEBDC CFDABE ECBFAD DEACFB BDFECA, the seventh stanza is a tercet where line 1 has A in it but ends with D, line 2 has B in it but ends with E, line 3 has C in it but ends with F
- Simple 4-line: "ABCB"
- Sonnet ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
- Spenserian stanza: "ABABBCBCCDCDEE"
- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening form: "AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD" a modified Ruba'i stanza used by Robert Frost for the eponymous poem.
- Tanaga: traditional Tagalog tanaga is "AAAA"
- Terza rima: "ABA BCB CDC ...", ending on "YZY Z", "YZY ZZ", or "YZY ZYZ".
- Triplet: "AAA", often repeating like the couplet.
- Villanelle: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2, where A1 and A2 are lines repeated exactly which rhyme with the a lines.
In hip-hop music
Hip-hop music and rapping's rhyme schemes include traditional schemes such as couplets, as well as forms specific to the genre, which are broken down extensively in the books How to Rap and Book of Rhymes. Rhyme schemes used in hip-hop music include
Couplets are the most common type of rhyme scheme in old school rap and are still regularly used, though complex rhyme schemes have progressively become more frequent. Rather than relying on end rhymes, rap's rhyme schemes can have rhymes placed anywhere in the bars of music to create a structure. There can also be numerous rhythmic elements which all work together in the same scheme – this is called internal rhyme in traditional poetry, though as rap's rhymes schemes can be anywhere in the bar, they could all be internal, so the term is not always used. Rap verses can also employ 'extra rhymes', which do not structure the verse like the main rhyme schemes, but which add to the overall sound of the verse.
Number of rhyme schemes for a poem with n lines
Examples: We find one rhyme scheme for a one-line poem (A), two different rhyme schemes for a two-line poem (AA, AB), and five for a three-line poem: AAA, AAB, ABA, ABB, and ABC.
These counts, however, include rhyme schemes in which some lines rhyme with no other line (e.g. a 4-line poem with pattern ABCB), and even the case in which rhyme is not employed at all (ABCD). There are many fewer rhyme schemes when all lines must rhyme with at least one other line; a count of these is given by the numbers,
For example, for a three-line poem, there is only one rhyming scheme in which every line rhymes with at least one other (AAA), while for a four-line poem, there are four such schemes (AABB, ABAB, ABBA, and AAAA).
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 95-110.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 99.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 100.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 101.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 101-102.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 102-103.
- Bradley, Adam, 2009, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, p. 50.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap Like A Star: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 97.
- Bradley, Adam, 2009, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, p. 73.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 107.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 104.
- Bradley, Adam, 2009, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, p. 74.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 103.
- Gardner, Martin (1978), "The Bells: versatile numbers that can count partitions of a set, primes and even rhymes", Scientific American, 238: 24–30, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0578-24. Reprinted with an addendum as "The Tinkly Temple Bells", Chapter 2 of Fractal Music, Hypercards, and more ... Mathematical Recreations from Scientific American, W. H. Freeman, 1992, pp. 24–38.