Writing a limerick can be a difficult task, you’ve got just 34 syllables to express your idea, and ideally make it funny too.
If you’re a keen poet or just an interested reader we’ve got the guide to teach you everything you need to know about this 5-lined poem.
What is a Limerick?
A limerick is a light-hearted poem that is usually around 5 lines long and follows an AABBA rhyming scheme. Edward Lear was known for using this form of poem back in the 1800s. Here’s an example of one he wrote:
There was an Old Person of Dean,
Who dined on one pea and one bean;
For he said, “More than that would make me too fat,”
That cautious Old Person of Dean.
Limericks are in accentual verse, which means that the construction of a line is determined by the number of accents no matter how many syllables there are. And because the syllables aren’t counted, limericks have a certain flexibility.
In limericks, the accents tend to work like this:
- Line 1: 3 accents
- Line 2: 3 accents
- Line 3: 2 accents
- Line 4: 2 accents
- Line 5: 3 accents
Because of this flexibility there are different ways to write poetry like limericks; the first line might look something like this: There was once an old man from London. or it might go like this: There was an old man from London. Then third line could go like so: He rode on a whale or it might work like this: And he rode on a whale.
It doesn’t matter which version you use, the result is a pattern of strong, weak, weak.
Limericks as Edward Lear used in the 1800s are slightly different from what we know today. Lear often used the fifth line of the limerick as more of a paraphrase of line 1 or 2. He also often used the same word at the end of line 5 as he does at the end of line 1.
Or, as is more common in modern limericks, Lear sometimes used the final line as a punchline.
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Rules of Limericks
Limericks have a set of rules that you need to follow. The rules for a limerick are simple:
- They are five lines long.
- Lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme with one another.
- Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.
- They have a distinctive rhythm
- And usually, they’re funny!
Rhyming a Limerick
The rhyme scheme of a limerick is known as “AABBA.” This means that the final words in lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme. Those are the “A’s” in the rhyme scheme. The “B’s” are the last words of lines 3 and 4.
Let’s look at this example:
There was a young fellow named Hall
Who fell in the spring in the fall.
‘Twould have been a sad thing
Had he died in the spring,
But he didn’t—he died in the fall.
You’ll see that the words, “Hall,” “fall,” and “fall” all rhyme. These are the “A” words in the “AABBA” scheme. And the ‘B’ words “thing” and “spring” rhyme.
We mentioned earlier that Limericks have a pattern of strong weak weak. This is known as “anapaestic,” – sounds more complicated than it is believe us!.
It’s simple really, limericks have “beats” in them. Usually, the first two lines and the last line have three “beats” in them, while the third and fourth lines have two “beats.”
It goes something like this:
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
Limericks don’t always strictly follow this rhythm rule but it is usually pretty close to this, that’s why limericks have that jaunty, light-hearted feel when you read them.
Let’s take a look at this famous limerick:
There was an old man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
If we follow the rhythm rules and emphasize the beats when we read it, it comes out like this:
there WAS an old MAN of NanTUCKet
who KEPT all his CASH in a BUCKet;
but his DAUGHTer, named NAN,
ran aWAY with a MAN,
and AS for the BUCKet, NanTUCKet.
See? It’s simple!
Some Examples of Limericks
Here are some more examples of limericks that might sound familiar…
There once was a man from Peru
Who had a lot of growing up to do,
He’d ring a doorbell,
then run like hell,
Until the owner shot him with a .22.
There once was a young lady named bright
Whose speed was much faster than light
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.
The authors of these two remained anonymous but maybe you’ll recognise these ones by Edward Lear:
There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.
There was a young lady of Lucca
Whose lovers completely forsook her;
She ran up a tree
And said "Fiddle-de-dee!"
Which embarrassed the people of Lucca.
Or this more modern one:
Few thought he was even a starter;
There were many who thought themselves smarter,
But he ended a PM
CH and OM
An earl and a Knight of the Garter.
Notice that when you read them they all have similar sounds and rhythms. You’ll also notice that they all have that light-hearted humorous feel to them that makes limericks so fun!
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Tips on Writing a Limerick
Now you’ve read about the rules and rhyming scheme of a limerick why not try writing one for yourself? Here are our tips for writing your own.
There are two more things that you’ll notice when you read limericks:
1. The first line tends to finish on a person’s first name or the name of a place.
2. The last line is usually funny.
Seeing as the first line is usually the name of a person or place, writing the first line should be easy for you! To start with, simply pick the name of a place or person – like “New York” or “Dave” – and write your first line:
There once was a man from New York
There was an old woman named Dave.
Then you can start looking for words that rhyme with “York” and “Dave” like “cork,” “fork,” “pork,” “stork,” or “cave,” “gave,” “wave,” until you find enough words to finish off your limerick.
Once you’ve got your rhyming words, you can start on thinking of a funny ending for your limerick.
Of course, you might need to change your rhyming words to fit in with your funny ending. That’s fine just play around with it until you find the best combination.
Now it’s your turn. See if you can follow our guide and write your own!
Remember to follow these steps:
1. Choose the name of a person or place and write the first line.
2. Look in a rhyming dictionary for words that rhyme with your person or place name.
3. Write line 2 and 5 to rhyme with the first line.
4. Now write lines 3 and 4 with a different rhyme.
When you are done writing, read your limerick out loud to make sure it sounds right and has the right rhythm;
Trying to get the rhythm the rhymes and the humour in 5 short lines is not easy so keep practising you’ll be writing funny limericks in no time!
My favourite thing about poetry is that there are lots of styles of poetry after trying Limerick poems. Give a new style a try, Haiku poems are from Japan and have a traditional form, Epic poetry is long and detailed, Different kinds of Sonnet are great to express an idea, If you like music the Ballard poem will suit you, If you like to watch performances go to see a slam poetry show or use free verse poetry to set yourself free of the rules. So many types of poetry so little time!