|Mechanics of Limericks||Style of Limericks|
|Rhyming of Limericks||Have Fun with Limericks|
|Back to Poetry II|
This is a Limerick:
Two serious teachers of grammar
Could lecture for hours--no stammers.
They loved pronouns and verbs
And other strange words,
So all day they would yammer and yammer.
A limerick is a five-line poem made up of a couplet (two-line poem) and a triplet (three-line poem). If you have read the section on rhyme schemes, you can see that in a limerick it is a-a-b-b-a. The meter, or beat is anapestic: a three-syllable foot, accent on the last syllable. The first, second, and fifth lines have three feet, and the third and fourth lines have two feet. (See Poetry I/Meter and Foot) A limerick may not always follow the meter exactly however. Often the start of a line will have only one unstressed syllable before a stressed syllable (lines 1, 2, 4 below). Sometimes there are one or two stressed syllables after the last stressed syllable at the end of lines (lines 1, 2, 5).
Line 1: two SER / i ous TEA/ chers of GRAM/ mar (This line has three feet)
Line 2: could LEC / ture for HOURS/ (pause) no STAM/ mers (This line has three feet)
Line 3: they loved PRO/ nouns and VERBS (This line has two feet)
Line 4: and OTH / er strange WORDS (This line has two feet)
Line 5: so all DAY / they would YAM/ mer and YAM / mer (This line has three feet)
A rule that must stay the same is having two unstressed syllable before a stressed syllable "inside" the line:
Line 1: i ous TEA/ chers of GRAM
Line 2: ture for HOURS/ (pause) no STAM (the slight pause here is counted as an unstressed syllable)
Line 3: nouns and VERBS
Line 4: er strange WORDS
Line 5: they would YAM/ mer and YAM
Here are some things that indicate which words or syllables are stressed:
One syllable words can be stressed or unstressed, but most are unstressed except for nouns and action verbs. In a limerick there can be times when a word that's usually unstressed, is stressed. "There WAS an old MAN from Hong KONG". The "was" is stressed here. Also: "There ONCE was a LAdy from OSHkosh". The "once" is stressed. Usually "was" and "once" are unstressed, but in the rhythm of a limerick, the stress is needed. Probably the most common first lines of a limerick are "There was. . ." and "There once was. . .", so people are accustomed to that pattern of stress.
You may see limericks with lines like: "There once was an old person of Boston". Because "once" is stressed, and "PERson" is stressed, you would have three unstressed syllables between the stresses. This isn't right. If you want to use an adjective (old for instance), drop the "once", If you don't use an adjective you can use "There once was. . ."
Two syllable words can be all unstressed, but generally they have one stressed syllable and one unstressed. Nouns and action verbs are mostly one stressed and one unstressed, but there are other words that may be also.
Three syllable words should be checked in a dictionary. They have usually one stressed and two unstressed.
Words longer than three syllables can be very tricky. Use a dictionary! A rule of thumb (meaning a rule that is a general guideline) is that if the main stress is on the second or third syllable, consider the other syllables as unstressed. If the stress is on the first or last syllable, you should probably just find a different word to use.
Another rule that must be followed is that the stressed syllables at the end of the lines must rhyme--a-a-b-b-a. Any unstressed syllables at the end of the line should at least be very close to rhyming: (GRAM mar and STAM mers and YAM mer). You can see that WORDS and VERBS in lines three and four is a slant or imperfect rhyme. (See Poetry I/ Rhymes). This is okay.
Warm socks to my KNEESES ( the word "knees" is changed to force a rhyme with "breezes")
Stop cold winter BREEZES
Don't rhyme words like "bare" and "bear"--words that begin with the same letter. A two-syllable rhyme can be used if the stress for both words is on the first syllable, and the last syllables are the same, or nearly the same (COVer and BROTHer; TEST her and FESTer; LISTed and TWISTed)
Some limericks repeat a word to get a rhyme. Many of the limericks of Edward Lear (a man who is well-known for writing limericks) use the same word or phrase in the first and last lines. This isn't wrong, but modern limericks tend NOT to do this.
Follow the rules of grammar, usage, and syntax. Formal or informal or even slang is fine, as long as it is appropriate to the tone of the limerick.
Use standard punctuation.
Stick to English word order (if course you are writing your limerick in English!). Each line doesn't have to be a complete sentence, but the first letter of the first word of each line is always capitalized.
Some limericks use puns (a play on words), but not all of them. Multi-syllable or non-English words can be used, but if they are a rhyming word, be sure you use them in a natural way. They shouldn't be an awkward part of the limerick.
A lot of limericks tend to be bawdy (uses off-color or vulgar words or associations). There is nothing wrong in being "adult", as long as it fits the idea of your limerick. Using vulgarity just for the sake of shocking people is neither funny nor clever.
Since limericks are meant to be funny and fun to write, you can use euphemisms, puns, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, idioms, slang, similes--any figure of speech that works for the poem. Remember that the last line of the limerick is the punch line--the twist that makes it funny.
Now give it a try!
Read these limericks out loud, and try tapping the rhythm. Remember, if the word is more than one syllable, it is the syllable, not the whole word that gets the stress.
There once was a sweet Southern belle,
Who managed her diction quite well.
Only once did she fall,
When she uttered "Y'all"
But most of the time, she did swell.
There should be a strict rule about kisses
That holds true both for misters and misses
The thing that's required
Are lips quite inspired,
And then we would all know what bliss is!
A Tudor who tooted a flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to their tutor,
"Is it harder to toot or
To tutor two tooters to toot?
In the second limerick, did you notice the double rhyme? "kisses, misses, bliss is"?
Finish these limericks. Watch for the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables when you choose your words.
There was an old woman from Spain
Who cried when it started _________.
Her sobs were so ____________,
That she startled the crowd
But she did it _____________________.
There once was a sailor quite short,
Who had sweethearts in all of his ___________.
He ranked each by their size,
And the shade of their _______,
And thought it was all a great sport!
Now you try writing your own limerick. You can e-mail your limericks if you want comments on them. The best ones will be posted.