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What Is Feminine Rhyme?

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  • Written By: Cynde Gregory
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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Men are supposed to be the strong, silent type, while women have the reputation for being chattier. Maybe that’s why masculine rhyme involves single-syllable pairs, while feminine rhymes are those that involve two, or even three, chiming syllables. In the nature of things, masculine rhymes have only one term by which they are called, while feminine rhymes have a veritable cornucopia, including double rhyme, triple rhyme, and extended rhyme, among others.

Strictly speaking, feminine rhymes are words of at least two syllables in which the final syllable is unstressed. This unstressed syllable as well as the one before it are rhymed in a pair of words such as weather and feather. Words with three or more syllables that rhyme the final two syllables and have an unstressed last syllable can also be found in pairs of words with feminine rhyme.

In contrast, masculine rhyme focuses on the final, stressed syllable. Single-syllable rhyming pairs cannot be categorized as feminine; pairs such as quake and fake are masculine because of their structure. Word pairs like formulate and confiscate are also masculine, despite being composed of three syllables each; that is because the rhyme is on the final syllable only, and it is a stressed syllable.

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Fans of silly poems are, whether they know it or not, probably also very fond of feminine rhymes. This type of sound pairing is very common in limericks and children’s stories that are told in rhyme. There’s just something inherently amusing about repeating double sounds, such as those that occur in wobble and bobble or turtle and girdle.

It is possible that feminine rhymes are more often sillier than masculine ones because it’s more difficult to find word pairs that share so much aural material. This can force the poet to marry words that are odd bedfellows, for example, jury and blurry or bemuse and accuse. Needless to say, this is pure delight to a limericist who has a ready-made excuse to write about a professor who learns lesser and lesser.

The quirky, comedic side to feminine rhyme can, in the right hands, give way to something sweeter. Feminine rhyme, handled well, is subtle and delicate, making it perfect for a love poem. William Shakespeare was particularly adroit at this use of feminine rhyme in his Sonnet 20: “A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted / Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; / A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted / With shifting change, as is false women's fashion.”

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nony
Post 3

@MrMoody - I believe that the internal rhymes are the more challenging rhyme schemes to work with, whether you are talking about single syllable or multiple syllables.

Internal rhymes are rhymes that take place in the same sentence. This adds a layer of complexity to your rhyming scheme doesn’t it? But I think that in the hands of a master poet this kind of thing can work quite well.

MrMoody
Post 2

@David09 - I agree, but I think that’s because most limericks tend to be dirty or at least somewhat edgier.

I wouldn’t make too much of a fuss over the designation of feminine over masculine rhymes. It might be useful to do a study however of how many single syllable words exist in the English language as opposed to multi syllable words.

Perhaps that would give you at least some insight into what kind of language you have in your repertoire to work with. A dictionary of syllables might help in that regard.

David09
Post 1

Well now, men are the strong, silent type and women are given to chatter, are they? I suppose I could be offended by this characterization, but I have to concede that in many cases it’s true.

I don’t talk a whole lot but my wife does. I see simple, one word answers; she sees layers of nuance. I guess it makes sense that rhyming schemes can be named masculine or feminine depending on their complexity.

Does it follow, however, that feminine rhymes appeal more to men or women – or do we end the comparison there? I will go out on a limb and venture to say that men are attracted to the more feminine rhyme examples like limericks.

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