Do Sonnets Rhyme?

by Amy

Sonnets stand as one of the most revered and enduring poetic forms in literature, known for their structured elegance and profound expression of emotion. Originating in Italy during the Renaissance, the sonnet has evolved into various forms and styles, each characterized by its own unique structure and thematic elements. At its core, a sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter, typically divided into two parts: an octave (eight lines) followed by a sestet (six lines). This structured format provides poets with a framework for exploring themes such as love, beauty, mortality, and the human condition.

Rhyme Scheme of Sonnets

The rhyme scheme of traditional sonnets varies depending on the form. Two of the most prominent sonnet forms are the Shakespearean (or English) sonnet and the Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet.

Shakespearean Sonnet: The rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is typically ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This means that the first and third lines rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines, and so on. The final couplet often serves as a conclusion or resolution to the poem’s theme.

Petrarchan Sonnet: The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is typically ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. In this form, the octave (the first eight lines) presents a problem or question, while the sestet (the final six lines) offers a resolution or answer.

Function of Rhyme in Sonnets

Rhyme serves multiple functions in sonnet writing. Firstly, it adds musicality and rhythm to the poem, enhancing its aesthetic appeal and engaging the reader’s auditory senses. Rhyme also contributes to the structure and cohesion of the sonnet, providing a sense of unity and continuity throughout the poem. Additionally, rhyme can emphasize key words or ideas, drawing attention to important themes and enhancing the overall impact of the poem on the reader.

Variations in Rhyme

While traditional sonnets adhere to specific rhyme schemes, variations in rhyme may occur in modern or experimental forms of sonnet writing. Some poets may deviate from traditional patterns to achieve specific effects or to innovate within the genre. For example, poets may experiment with slant rhyme, internal rhyme, or irregular rhyme schemes to create unique and unexpected sonic patterns in their sonnets. These variations in rhyme contribute to the evolution and diversity of sonnet writing, allowing poets to explore new forms of expression while still honoring the rich tradition of the sonnet.

Examples and Analysis

To illustrate the diversity of rhyme schemes in sonnet writing, let us examine examples from both Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets.

Shakespearean Sonnet Example (Sonnet 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)
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: (B)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (C)
And often is his gold complexion dimmed; (D)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (C)
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed; (D)
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, (E)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; (F)
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, (E)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: (F)
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, (G)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (G)

In this example, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 follows the typical ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet. The consistent rhyme scheme contributes to the poem’s musicality and structure, enhancing its overall impact on the reader.

Petrarchan Sonnet Example (Sonnet 292 by Petrarch)

L’aura serena che fra verdi fronde (A)
Move col dolce ond’ei piangendo l’arena, (B)
Fa di fuor sì, ch’ a l’arbor mi confonde (B)
C’ a poco a poco ‘l cor a gran pietade (A)
Mover suole i pensier, sì che m’ ammenda (A)
E dice: “Or vedi omai s’ ei ha possanza (B)
Colui ch’ a te rivolge le sue mani (C)
Come fia tuo destin, che ‘l cor t’ appare (C)
In guisa sì, ch’ al suo disio ti renda. (B)
Deh, se tu l’hai già preso, a lui rendilo (D)
Se no, che si fa l’ anima mia prima (E)
In gran periglio, e ‘n mille guai si scema. (D)
Questo ch’ oggi ti par fior, non è camo (E)
Ed io perdo sí ‘l senno, ch’ ogni stella (F)
Par ch’ al suo lume fiamma vivace arda.” (F)

In this example, Petrarch’s Sonnet 292 follows the ABBA ABBA CDC DCD rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet. The structured rhyme scheme reinforces the thematic progression of the poem, leading from a problem or question in the octave to a resolution or answer in the sestet.


In conclusion, the rhyme scheme plays a crucial role in shaping the structure, musicality, and thematic development of sonnets. Whether adhering to traditional patterns or exploring innovative variations, rhyme adds depth and richness to sonnet writing, enhancing the poet’s ability to convey complex emotions and ideas within the confines of this timeless form. As poets continue to experiment and innovate within the genre, the significance of rhyme in sonnet writing remains steadfast, ensuring that this enduring poetic form continues to captivate readers for generations to come.

FAQs About Sonnets

1. Do sonnets have to rhyme?

Traditionally, sonnets do have a specific rhyme scheme, but it’s not an absolute requirement. Most traditional sonnets follow a structured rhyme scheme, such as ABAB CDCD EFEF GG for Shakespearean sonnets or ABBA ABBA CDC DCD for Petrarchan sonnets. However, modern poets may deviate from these traditional patterns and experiment with free verse or alternative rhyme schemes. So while many sonnets do rhyme, it’s not a strict rule.

2. What are the three rules of a sonnet?

The three main rules of a sonnet are:

  • Fourteen lines: Sonnets typically consist of 14 lines.
  • Iambic pentameter: Each line usually follows an iambic pentameter pattern, consisting of five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables.
  • Specific rhyme scheme: Traditional sonnets adhere to specific rhyme schemes, such as ABAB CDCD EFEF GG for Shakespearean sonnets or ABBA ABBA CDC DCD for Petrarchan sonnets.

3. Do modern sonnets rhyme?

Modern sonnets can rhyme, but they are not limited to traditional rhyme schemes. While some modern poets may choose to follow traditional patterns of rhyme, others may experiment with free verse or alternative rhyme schemes. Modern sonnets prioritize thematic depth, emotional resonance, and artistic expression, and the use of rhyme can vary depending on the poet’s intentions and artistic vision.

4. Does Shakespeare have a rhyme scheme?

Yes, Shakespearean sonnets, also known as English sonnets, typically follow a specific rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This means that the first and third lines rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth lines, and so on. The final two lines often form a rhymed couplet, serving as a conclusion or resolution to the poem’s theme.

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