The word comes from the Old French rime, derived from Old Frankish language *rīm, a Germanic term meaning "series, sequence" attested in Old English (Old English rīm - "enumeration, series, numeral") and Old High German rīm, ultimately cognate to Old Irish rím, Greek ἀριθμός arithmos "number".
The spelling rhyme (for original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period, due to a learnèd (but incorrect) association with Greek ῥυθμός (rhythmos).
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).
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.
Perfect rhymes can be classified according to the number of syllables included in the rhyme
In the general sense, "rhyme" can refer to various kinds of phonetic similarity between words, and to the use of such similar-sounding words in organizing verse. Rhymes in this general sense are classified according to the degree and manner of the phonetic similarity:
It has already been remarked that in a perfect rhyme the last stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical in both words. If this identity of sound extends further to the left, the rhyme becomes more than perfect. An example of such a "super-rhyme" is the "identical rhyme", in which not only the vowels but also the onsets of the rhyming syllables are identical, as in gun and begun. Punning rhymes such are "bare" and "bear" are also identical rhymes. The rhyme may of course extend even further to the left than the last stressed vowel. If it extends all the way to the beginning of the line, so that we have two lines that sound identical, then it is called "holorhyme" ("For I scream/For ice cream").
The last type of rhyme is the sight (or eye), or similarity in spelling but not in sound, as with cough, bough, or love, move. These are not rhymes in the strict sense, but often were formerly. For example, "sea" and "grey" rhymed in the early eighteenth century, though now they would make at best an eye rhyme.
The preceding classification has been based on the nature of the rhyme; but we may also classify rhymes according to their position in the verse:
Some words in English, such as "orange" or "pint", are commonly regarded as having no rhyme. Although a clever poet can get around this (for example, by rhyming "orange" with combinations of words like "door hinge" or with lesser-known words like "Blorenge", a hill in Wales), it is generally easier to move the word out of rhyming position or replace it with a synonym ("orange" could become "amber").
In French poetry, unlike in English, it is common to have "identical rhymes", in which not only the vowels of the final syllables of the lines rhyme, but their onset consonants ("consonnes d'appui") as well. To the ear of someone accustomed to English verse, this often sounds like a very weak rhyme. For example, an English perfect rhyme of homophones, flour and flower, would seem weak, whereas a French rhyme of homophones doigt and doit is not only acceptable but quite common.
Rhymes are sometimes classified into the categories "rime pauvre" ("poor rhyme"), "rime suffisante" ("sufficient rhyme"), "rime riche" ("rich rhyme") and "rime richissime" ("very rich rhyme"), according to the number of rhyming sounds in the two words. For example to rhyme "parla" with "sauta" would be a poor rhyme (the words have only the vowel in common), to rhyme "pas" with "bras" a sufficient rhyme (with the vowel and the silent consonant in common), and "tante" with "attente" a rich rhyme (with the vowel, the onset consonant, and the coda consonant with its mute "e" in common). Authorities disagree, however, on exactly where to place the boundaries between the categories.
Classical French rhyme does not differ from English rhyme only in its different treatment of onset consonants. It also treats coda consonants in a peculiarly French way.
French spelling includes a lot of final letters that are no longer pronounced. Such final sounds, which were once pronounced, continue to live a shadowy existence in Classical French versification. They are in almost all of the pre-20th century French verse texts, but these rhyming rules are almost never taken into account from the 20th century on.
The most important "silent" letter is the "mute e". In spoken French today, final "e" is, in some regional accents, omitted after consonants; but in Classical French prosody, it was considered an integral part of the rhyme even when following the vowel. "Joue" could rhyme with "boue", but not with "trou". Rhyming words ending with this silent "e" were said to make up a "feminine rhyme", while words not ending with this silent "e" made up a "masculine rhyme". It was a principle of stanza-formation that masculine and feminine rhymes had to alternate in the stanza. All 17th century French plays in verse alternate masculine and feminine alexandrine couplets.
The "silent" final consonants present a more complex case. They, too, were considered an integral part of the rhyme, so that "pont" could rhyme only with "vont" not with "long"; but this cannot be reduced to a simple rule about the spelling, since "pont" would also rhyme with "rond" even though one word ends in "t" and the other in "d". This is because the correctness of the rhyme depends not on the spelling on the final consonant, but on how it would have been pronounced. There are a few simple rules that govern word-final consonants in French prosody:
But tail rhyme was not used as a prominent structural feature of Latin poetry until it was introduced under the influence of local vernacular traditions in the early Middle Ages. This is the Latin hymn Dies Irae:
Patterns of rich rhyme (prāsa) play a role in modern Sanskrit poetry, but only to a minor extent in historical Sanskrit texts; they are classified according to their position within the pada, AdiprAsa (first syllable), Dwitiyakshara prasa (the second syllable), antyaprAsa (final syllable) etc.
The Qu'ran is written in a prosaic genre that uses end rhymes. This particular style was widely spread on the Arabic peninsula during the time of the Qu'ran's synthesis.
Rhyming in the Celtic Languages takes a drastically different course from most other Western rhyming schemes as these languages had only minimal contact with the Romance and Greek patterns. Gaelic languages (especially Irish Gaelic) do not use rhyming but rather assonance or the rhyming of vowel sounds within non-rhyming words. Often, pieces with true rhyming are considered awkward to Gaelic speakers, much in the same way many English speakers find the Irish rhyming pattern. Example of Irish Gaelic rhyme:
Is a Bhríd Óg Ní Mhaille, 's tú d'fhág mo chroí cráite (is a vreej ohg nee wahllya 's two dawg mow xree crawtchah)
There are some unique rhyming schemes in Dravidian languages like Tamil. Specifically, the rhyme called 'edukai'(anaphora) rhymes on the beginning of subsequent line of a poem. The effect of 'edukai', though a little strange at first, rapidly becomes pleasant to the reader, and to the Tamil it is as enjoyable as the end rhyme.
Some classical Tamil poetry forms, such as Venpa, have rigid grammars for rhyme to the point that they could be expressed as a context-free grammar.
Rhyme has multiple functions. Partly it 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.