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What Is Half Rhyme?

By A. Gamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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In half rhyme, the ending consonant sound of a word is the same as in the word with which it is intended to rhyme, but the final vowel sounds are not the same, such as in the words "sun" and "moon." For this reason, it is considered an imperfect rhyme. It also is called slant rhyme or oblique rhyme. The Icelandic, Irish, Scottish and Welsh are recognized as the first to use half rhyme, and it was a common feature in their classic poems. In English, half rhyme was first used by Henry Vaughan in the 1600s but did not become popular until it was used by poets such as Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen in the 1800s or William Butler Yeats in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Half rhyme applies only to words that have end consonant sounds that match, such as “cold” and “bald,” which is why it is considered a form of consonance. It is frequently confused with pararhyme and assonance. Both of these literary devices are similar to half rhyme, with only subtle differences. In the main feature of pararhyme, both the beginning and end consonants much have the same sound such as “red” and “rod.” When using assonance, only the vowel sounds match, as in “hot” and “bod.”

A poet might use half rhyme for several reasons. As with some other poetic devices, it forces the reader to take pause and notice the difference in the words. Sometimes it even makes the reader re-read the passage to figure out why the poem sounds “off.” This is because half rhyme is usually used with other poetic devices, making the reader form expectation. When the slant rhyme is used, it breaks that expectation and essentially shocks the senses.

The sometimes harsh and off-key nature of this rhyming method is occasionally applied to fit the mood of the poem. Quirky and off-beat poems do well with type of rhyme as a main feature. Poems that represent a character’s thought or quote might also use half rhyme because it flows more like natural conversation, given that it is not typical for a person to think or speak in perfect rhyme.

Using this rhyming method also gives a poet more creative freedom. It allows a poet to match a word with another when there is no actual rhyme available. This use of creative license is commonly used by modern poets and rap musicians.

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Discussion Comments
By Mammmood — On Feb 13, 2012

@David09 - Some people simply don’t like straight rhyme. Such rhymes I think have an amateurish quality about them, like you’re throwing together a limerick or something like that. Half rhymes not only force you to think, but they open up greater rhyming possibilities.

For example, you might have someone’s formal last name, like “Winchester,” which you could rhyme up with “court jester.” I realize this is closer to a perfect rhyme but you get the idea. Formal names of people and places always pose a challenge with traditional rhyming schemes.

By David09 — On Feb 12, 2012

@everetra - There are other reasons too in my opinion. Clever word play might be an example, like if you were building an advertising campaign and wanted some catchy slogans that rhyme.

In this context I think you would use a mix of rhyming schemes, including half rhyme, assonance and pararhyme. One of the examples given in the article is the use of “hot” and “bod.” How many times have you heard the phrase “hot bod” before? I think it works, doesn’t it?

By everetra — On Feb 12, 2012

@NathanG - I would tend to agree. If you’re just starting out in poetry, you don’t immediately think of using slant rhyme examples to construct your poem.

If you use them at all then it is most likely because you have no other words that come close to rhyming; a half rhyme dictionary might be your best bet in such a situation.

As for people using half rhymes for other purposes, like forcing the reader to think or whatever, I would have to say that the English classic poets used them in this way.

After all, if you’re Emily Dickinson, I don’t think you’re exactly struggling for words as a writer. If you use a half rhyme, you’re doing it deliberately, as an artistic device, I would think.

By NathanG — On Feb 11, 2012

Personally, of all the reasons given for the half rhyme examples mentioned in the article, I think that creative freedom is probably the most common.

Most poets don’t set about writing poetry that sounds “off.” Ideally you want to have perfect rhymes. Many amateur poets in my opinion don’t even bother with rhymes because it forces them into a kind of structure that they think limits their creative liberties.

I disagree. I think it makes you more creative. Nonetheless, such beginning poets should avail themselves of half rhymes if they can’t find perfect rhymes for their poems, and at least they will still learn and apply the basic principles of rhyme in their poetry, instead of wandering off into free verse.

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