The Difference in Rhyme & Rhythm

Most writers use literary devices in the creation of their craft. Two such devices are the use of rhyme and rhythm, which are used effectively in poetic works. Whether you are a reader or a writer, understanding the literary tools of rhyme and rhythm can enhance the interpretation or the creation of a text.


Words the end in the same sound are said to rhyme. The words "like" and "bike," for example, share the ending sound of "ike," thus they rhyme. Polysyllabic words (words with many syllables) can be harder to rhyme. To rhyme something with the word "metaphor," you might have to get creative and use a phrase like "shut the door."

Rhyme Scheme

The way rhymes are arranged in a work is referred to as the rhyme scheme. In Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet," the opening lines of the play have a definite rhyme scheme. To describe the scheme, each ending sound is coded with a letter: a for the first sound, b for the second and so on. The first four lines of the play are:

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

The first line ends with "dignity" which rhymes with the third line ending of "mutiny." The second line "scene" rhymes with the fourth, "unclean." The rhyme scheme would be designated as a-b-a-b.


Rhythm refers the musical beat of a word or phrase. In writing, rhythm is usually designated by the way the syllables in the word are stressed or accented. For example, the word "disappear" has a stressed-unstressed-stressed rhythm. If it were set to a drum beat, the rhythm would be BUM-bum-BUM.


A poem or work of literature that has a regular rhythmic pattern is said to have a specific meter. Shakespeare most often wrote in iambic pentameter. The iamb is a rhythmic pattern of unstressed-stressed, or a bum-BUM beat. Pentameter indicates that each line has five iambs. In the opening lines of "Romeo and Juliet," the iambic pentameter is clearly present. "Two households both alike in dignity" can be translated into beats: "Two houses (bum BUM) holds both (bum BUM ) a-like (bum BUM) in dig- (bum BUM) ni-ty (bum BUM )." Each additional line follows the pattern.

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