Brian Dean Humor

How to Write Limericks: Part 2

Quick and Easy Rhymes

Rhyming means finding two or more words that sound the same, even if they are spelled differently, like JUNE and MOON.

Some poets use something called a rhyming dictionary — more on that later. For now, we'll introduce you to a fast, easy method you can use anywhere: the Rhyming Alphabet.

The Rhyming Alphabet

Basically, the Rhyming Alphabet shows all of the letters, and combined letters like BR, that can be used to begin a word. Here's how you would use it to rhyme the word COW:

1. Remove the first consonant, in this case C. You're going to be rhyming the sound OW.

2. Make a list of words by adding letters from the Rhyming Alphabet to OW. Write down BOW, BLOW, BROW, CHOW, CLOW, CROW, etc.

3. Discard any words that don't sound the same as OW sound. For example, BLOW, CROW, FLOW, GLOW, GROW, etc.

4. Discard any words you know aren't really words, like FOW, GOW, JOW, and so on. If you're not sure about a word, look it up in a dictionary, or go to Google's search box and type DEFINE:THEWORD. You may learn some new words you can use!

You now have a list of words that rhyme with COW: BOW, BROW, CHOW, HOW, NOW, PLOW, PROW, and WOW. Later, you'll learn how to use a list of rhymes to create a limerick.

COW was an easy example — just drop the C and rhyme OW. But what do you do if you're trying to rhyme EIGHT or LIGHT or SLEIGH?

Simply say the word and write down the sound in a simpler way:

Once you've identified the sound, you can use the Rhyming Alphabet to add letters to the simplified sound:


The Rhyming Alphabet

With a little practice, you won't need to write anything down. For LIGHT, just say, “ITE”, and start adding letters to it: BITE, BRIGHT, FIGHT, FLIGHT, HEIGHT, LIGHT, MIGHT, NIGHT (please, not NITE), PLIGHT, QUITE, RIGHT or RITE, SIGHT, SPITE, SLIGHT, SMITE (biblical for smack-down), TIGHT, TRITE, and WHITE.


Use the Rhyming Alphabet to find three- and four-letter words that rhyme with SLEIGH.

(Remember, you're rhyming the sound AY.)

See the Correct Answer

Using a Rhyming Dictionary

The Rhyming Alphabet is useful for short, simple words, and it may help you remember some words that you already know. For example, you may rhyme SLEIGH with familiar words like DELAY, FILLET, or DEATH RAY (a word that could be very handy when writing a limerick).

But did you know SLEIGH also rhymes with BOMBAY, CHEVROLET, DNA, JUDGEMENT DAY (among other DAYs), SANTA FE, and NEGLIGEE?

I didn't think of those words either, until I consulted my copy of The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, by Clement Wood. Wood's book is one of several rhyming dictionaries that list words with a similar sound. In fact, Wood's rhyming dictionary lists 366 words or short phrases that rhyme with SLEIGH! (DEATH RAY wasn't in the dictionary, because serious poets wouldn't need it.)

Not all of the words in a rhyme list will fit into the specific meter of a limerick. Still, just looking at such a list is a great source of inspiration. Perhaps a man from BOMBAY drove his CHEVROLET to SANTA FE.

Of course, rhyming words is just part of the process of writing a limerick. In the next part of this tutorial, we'll see how to expand a basic idea into a funny situation that becomes a funny limerick. Maybe the man from BOMBAY didn't get to SANTA FE because a UFO zapped him with a DEATH RAY.

Help! This Word Doesn't Have Any Rhymes!

Sometimes you just can't find a rhyme that works. I once tried to write a limerick about a big snake. I wanted to use PYTHON, but nothing rhymes with PYTHON.

When this happens, you have two choices: (1) you can move the difficult word inside the line, so it ends with a word you can rhyme or (2) you can use a different word at the end of the line, something similar. (More on this in Writing a Limerick About a Friend.)

When I gave up on PYTHON, I actually managed to squeeze ANACONDA into the limerick:

A frustrated gardener named Sean,
Battled gophers that lived in his lawn,
Bought a huge Anaconda,
(Brought it home in his Honda),
And by Tuesday...the mailman was gone!

So, how does ANACONDA — a four syllable word — rhyme with HONDA, with just two syllables?

Answer: they both end with the same sound, ONDA. In this case, I didn't use the Rhyming Alphabet. When I got to “Bought a huge Anaconda” I just thought of HONDA right away. (How else would you transport a big snake? Besides, I drive a Honda. Sometimes inspiration is easy.)

NEXT: Start with a Funny Idea