Most folks think they know what a rhyme is. They’ll point to two words with identical sounds at the end, such as right and night, or even offer a pair like sing and daring, although chances are they’ll be a little less sure of that. Actually, there are a number of types of rhyme. Rhymes, like the poets themselves, can be perfect or imperfect, masculine or feminine, or even just halfway there or downright oblique.
The perfect rhyme is one of the most popular types of rhyme. It is what most children as well as adults recognize. These little beauties march in lockstep, with every phonetic bit after the initial sound of the final syllable a perfect echo. Single-syllable perfect rhymes are more often found in simple poetry because it’s easier to find precise sound matches for a word like rhyme in time, mime, and crime.
These single-syllable perfect rhymes are one form of masculine rhymes. Another type of rhyme that is masculine allows multisyllabic words but only if the rhyme is on the final syllable, such as in the pair agitate and compensate. This final syllable must also be the accented or stressed syllable to count as a masculine rhyme.
More complex, more intriguing, and lovelier to the ear are, of course, feminine rhymes. The trick to these types of rhymes is that the accent cannot be on the final syllable. Another requirement is that everything following the stressed syllable’s initial sound must almost rhyme. Passion and fashion are feminine rhymes, therefore, but passion and mansion are not.
Imperfect rhymes marry sounds found in a word’s stressed syllable with those found in another word’s unstressed syllable, such as cling and rocking. Imperfect rhymes are used to great effect by clever poets who know that they might slip by the reader’s conscious recognition but still impact their subconscious appreciation of the poem. Sadly, they are also used by inferior poets who either don’t have a strong grasp of the difference between perfect and imperfect types of rhyme or frankly don’t care.
Turning an imperfect rhyme inside out transforms it into another type of rhyme, called a semi-rhyme. Here, the rhyming connection is at the end of one word and the previous syllable of the other. An example of semi-rhyme is found in the rhyming pair mending and send.
Oblique rhymes trick the reader’s ear with a strong vowel identification. Also called forced or slant rhymes, they are found in rhyming pairs such as won and dumb. Their cousins, half rhymes, care little about the vowels but find their rhyming justification only in the final consonant or consonant cluster of a pair of words. Thus, camp and limp are perfectly acceptable half rhymes.