Middle English rime, from Anglo-French
The word is derived from Old French rime or ryme, which may be derived from Old Frankish rīm, a Germanic term meaning "series, sequence" attested in Old English (Old English rīm meaning "enumeration, series, numeral") and Old High German rīm, ultimately cognate to Old Irish rím, Greek ἀριθμός arithmos "number". Alternatively, the Old French words may derive from Latin rhythmus, from Greek ῥυθμός (rhythmos, rhythm).
The spelling rhyme (from original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period, due to a learned (but perhaps etymologically incorrect) association with Latin rhythmus. The older spelling rime survives in Modern English as a rare alternative spelling. A distinction between the spellings is also sometimes made in the study of linguistics and phonology, where rime/rhyme is used to refer to the nucleus and coda of a syllable. In this context, some prefer to spell this rime to separate it from the poetic rhyme covered by this article (see syllable rime).
- 1: correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, esp. when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry.
- 2: a short poem in which the sound of the word or syllable at the end of each line corresponds with that at the end of another.
The word rhyme can be used in a specific and a general sense. In the specific sense, two words rhyme if their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical; two lines of poetry rhyme if their final strong positions are filled with rhyming words. A rhyme in the strict sense is also called a perfect rhyme. Examples are sight and flight, deign and gain, madness and sadness.
Rhyme partly seems to be enjoyed simply as a repeating pattern that is pleasant to hear. It also serves as a powerful mnemonic device, facilitating memorization. The regular use of tail rhyme helps to mark off the ends of lines, thus clarifying the metrical structure for the listener. As with other poetic techniques, poets use it to suit their own purposes; for example William Shakespeare often used a rhyming couplet to mark off the end of a scene in a play.
In many languages, including modern European languages and Arabic, poets use rhyme in set patterns as a structural element for specific poetic forms, such as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. Some rhyming schemes have become associated with a specific language, culture or period, while other rhyming schemes have achieved use across languages, cultures or time periods. However, the use of structural rhyme is not universal even within the European tradition. Much modern poetry avoids traditional rhyme schemes.