Basic Rhyming Standards


"Rhyme is the identity of sound of an accented vowel in a word, usually the last one accented, and of
all the consonantal and vowel sounds following it; with a difference in the sound of the consonant
immediately preceding the accented vowel."

Well, that was a lovely collection of words ... let's make it a little more plain. Rhyming is when the final
vowel SOUND in a word and any consonant SOUNDS following it sounds the same in two or more

escape / reshape / undrape

In the above example, the final vowel - 'e' - is silent, so the final vowel sound is actually the 'a' sound
... the 'a' sound and the consonant sound following it make the same sound in all three words.

In the above example, the rhyming sound in all three words were also spelled the same - 'ape'. This is
one of two forms of classical true rhyme. The other true, classical rhyme is when two or more rhymes
do not spell the same but still 'sound' the same:

ate / bait / freight

True rhymes are always the rhyming goal. Anything else is a false rhyme, is considered cheating, and is
a sign that the writer needs to expand their vocabulary.



EYE-RHYMES are words that are spelled the same (looks good to the eye) but do not rhyme by sound:

cough / enough / plough / though / through / thorough

These look good on paper but do not sound good. Your audience will run for cover.

IDENTITIES are words that have the same consonant sound before that final, rhymed, accented vowel:

say - assay
bay - obey
laying - delaying

Using these is pretty much that same as just plain re-using a word as its own rhyme... poor taste and
rarely if ever gotten away with. They make the writer appear in need of more lessons before they are
allowed to express their work publicly.



CONSONANCE, which is sometimes called "off-rhymes", is when the consonant before and after the
accent vowel are the same but the vowel sound before it all is different:

spirit - merit ... (ear-it versus air-it)
heaven - given ... (ea-vin versus i-vin)
cunning - winning ... (un-ning verses in-ing)

ASSONANCE is also called a "vowel rhyme". It's when that final, accented vowel is of the same
sound, but the consonant is not:

praise - grace (-AAAz verses -AAAce)

False Rhymes and Near-Rhymes may look like a good escape out of a tight corner, but normally they
are not good rhyming. There are hymns that are wonderfully proper which happen to employ false and
near rhymes, but they are the exception - their message is so wonderful and so good that the poor
rhyming has been pardoned by generations of worshippers who have convinced editors to include them
in hymnals despite their rhyming faults. If you don't want to wait generations for this pubic pardon,
stick with classical, true rhyming.

I must point out that sometimes the accent with which the writer pronounces their English will affect
their rhyming. When I read the works of Isaac Watts, for example, my 21st Century American accent
pronounces some words differently than his 18th Century South Hampton accent. So, I must
remember that just because I can show on paper that something rhymed (or even near-rhymed!) for
Isaac Watts in 1720 in South Hampton, England does not mean it will rhyme for me in 2004 in the
western United States.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although a good rhyme is important, we must remember that the message of
the hymn is of prior importance:

"...the Hymnal is not a book to be admired primarily for its poetry, although great hymns are always
masterfully shaped as poetry. It is a book of devotion for the people, and they are the final critics."
(ANATOMY OF HYMNODY, Austin C. Lovelace (Chicago, ILL; GIA Publications, 1965, 1982),
page 22)

Notice how this hymn stanza uses nothing but near rhymes, and yet its message still rings clear and is
still a beloved hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

Charles Wesley, in his preface to "A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called
Methodists", wrote:

"That which is of infinitely more moment than the spirit of Poetry, is, the spirit of Piety... It is this view
chiefly that I would recommend it to every truly pious reader, as a means of raising or quickening the
spirit of devotion; of confirming his faith; of enlivening his hope; and of kindling or increasing his love
to God and man. When Poetry thus keeps its place, as the handmaid of Piety, it shall attain, not a poor
perishable wreath, but a crown that fadeth not away." (quoted here from ANATOMY OF
HYMNODY, page 23)


fence / hence / dense / whence / suspense

TWO-SYLLABLE RHYMES are called "double" or "FEMININE":

flowers / powers / towers / showers /
sonnet / on it

THREE SYLLABLE RHYMES are rarely used. A glance through a rhyming dictionary will show why
they're rarely used - most of these words have nothing to do with each other unless you are trying to
see how many -phobias or -ology's you can mention in one poem. About the only hymn-acceptable
3-syllable rhymes I could find while writing this is:

holiness / lowliness



Stanzas of more than four lines offer a great variety of rhyming possibilities. Here is a chart that shows
some of the common rhyming patterns:

IS THIS A RULE? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME! - I don't know if there is a rule or not, but
through my study most of the hymn texts I've noticed seem to follow an interesting thing: If all the lines
are of the same number of metering feet (88.88; 77.77, etc), then rhyming consecutive lines (AABB)
appears to be the most-used method. But if every other line is a different number of syllables (86.86;
76.76, etc), it appears rhyming the lines of the same length is the best (ABAB). I do not know if this is
a rule; it's just something I've noticed ... and I would love feedback from anyone smarter than me. I do
know of one exception already - the rhyming difference between an Iambic 87.87 and a Trochaic 87.87
(discussed in those pages).


My favorite rhyming dictionary is: COMPLETE RHYMING DICTIONARY edited by Clemet Wood
(New York, NY, Doubleday, 1991) ISBN 0-385-41350-5. It has a section titled THE POET'S CRAFT
BOOK - 108 pages of instructions and descriptions of rhyming and metering before the rhyming
dictionary part even begins. Any writer of poetry or lyric should have this book - in my opinion. I
would like to share several of the general rules it gives for rhyming that I have not yet mentioned above.


"Poetry is the expression of thought which awakes the higher and nobler emotions or their opposites,
in words arranged according to some accepted convention." (page 3)

If poetry alone is meant to unlock higher and nobler (or the opposite) emotions, then just how much
greater is the hymnists' challenge to take them even higher by use of music? And it is worth your time
and effort to really learn the craft and get it right!


"The desire that seeks expression, which it finds in the poem, springs from a deeper basic source
than thinking" ... a "tremendous inner compulsion comes upon the sensitive poet to seek relief by
creating his wish-fulfillment in words; and so it is that poems are born." (page 6)

To carry this one step further - the hymnist is driven, not just by thought, but by a spiritual need or
desire to express heavenly thoughts and aspirations. Their driving need is to express the spirituality in
their souls in a way others will understand, appreciate, and gain from. Their need is to bear witness of
the divine they feel within themselves.

"The poet who fails to be a critic as well is usually his own self-slayer." ... "Second-rate poets
distrust their own vision..." (page 6-7)


Even a hymnist must learn to analyze their own writing as well as the writings of others so they can
learn what works and what doesn't work. But meanwhile, they must trust their own vision. While being
critical helps you learn the rules and standards, you must apply them and break them in an acceptable
way to bring your vision to life.


"Learn correct rhyming first; then, if you wish to break the rule you understand, that is your
privilege." (page 27)

Rhyme and meter are centuries old, and through those centuries the speaker and the listener have been
discovering what sounds and feels good when presented verbally. We need to learn from the past so we
can apply it in ways already proven to be pleasing to the ear, heart, and mind. But this should not fetter
us from exploring the infinite variety of ways to combine the words of our language together - but to
know what we are doing, we need to know the rules so that we can properly apply them - or know
why we are breaking them.


"Rhyming must always give the effect of unobtrusive naturalness, or it fails of its proper effect."
(page 29)

I don't know how many times my friends have told me - "This sounds forced"... and the terrible thing
is they were nearly always pointing at a line I'd forced into rhyming - I'd settled on the first thing I
could 'make' rhyme. Don't just settle on something because "Finally! A word that rhymes!"... your
readership will know you 'cheated' as well as you will know it. Take the time to find a rhyme that
flows, fits, and feels natural - it's worth the time and effort!


"In light and humorous verse... cleverness is a crown; in serious verse, if used sparingly, it is
permitted." (page 30)

Limericks and Dr. Seuss are crowning achievements in cute, imaginative, and above all, clever rhyme.
We read limericks and Dr. Seuss for the sheer joy of the rhyme.  But try to picture Shakespeare's
sonnets or Dante's 'Divine Comedy' or even Milton's 'Paradise Lost' written to show off their rhyming
skills over and above the message of the text, and you see that serious and spiritual verse, while
needing to rhyme well, should not have rhymes so cute and clever that they draw our attention away
from the message presented. If we do, clever becomes cleaver and our message is chopped up and lost.


"No inversions, no archaisms, no poetic license." (page 32)

Poetic license is the self-proclaimed 'right' to warp and twist the language out of its natural order or
grammar while forcing something to rhyme. For the most part, Shame on you! But there are exceptions.

The sentence structure of the English language allows the order of the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and
adverbs to be arranged in many different orders and still be technically correct. However technically
correct they may be, if the sentence appears to be in pain over what you have done with it, then put it
out of its misery and rewrite. If the reader needs to consult a grammar textbook to verify what you've
written is in fact English sentence structure - or in fact English - then rewrite. There are times you can
invert the order of words in a sentence to obtain a good rhyme, but it must still flow well and sound
natural. If in doubt, share it with friends you know will tell you the truth.


"Poetry that speaks a dead language is dead from its birth; poetry that speaks a warped and distorted
language is warped and distorted from its birth." ... "If your poetry speaks your own living language,
its vocabulary is acceptable." ... "Let your poetic speech be your own living speech at its best,
dictated by an innate sense of music, and the result will satisfy." (pages 95 & 98)

One should write in the normal language of your day - the language you're comfortable with and speak
well. But as hymnists we often feel the need to write in the language of the Bible our congregation uses.
My church uses the King James Version, and an avid reader of the scriptures in my church can become
fluent in "King James English". Churches that use modern-language Bibles are not fluent in this
language, and it means nothing to them. In one church, King James English in one's hymns would be
acceptable, in the other it's a foreign and useless language.

While I was definitely raised in the United States and understand several versions of American English,
I was also raised with King James English - I love the beauty and majesty of its language, and most of
the time I can write in the language of this sacred volume. I still prefer to write in it when writing a
hymn text addressing or centered around Deity, because I was raised to address Deity with this
language. To do this well as a writer, a hymnist must continue to make King James English their own
language by continuing to read the King James Version and understanding and feeling the beauty of the
language. They have to make sure they use it correctly. As a matter of routine, I'll compare what I
write to the King James and other such as Shakespeare and Milton - to ensure proper use of the
language. And if I miss something, one of my musician friends at church will usually catch it - it's
almost become a way to see who's reading their scriptures and is fluent in their 'scripture language'.

For those who wish to better understand the use of King James English, please
worksheet on the subject.


"The words chosen should always end, and as far as possible include, only sounds which open the
mouth, instead of closing it." (page 58-59)

How often have we heard a choir end a line or stanza or even a whole song with the letter "M"? Not
too often! When we do, we start looking around for the flight of bees overhead. A sound that involves
leaving the mouth open better terminates what is being said, whether we cut it off quickly or if we hold
it out for several beats. And, it keeps the bees out of the chapel.


"No syllable once used as a rhyme can be used again in the same poem as a rhyme - not even if it is
spelled differently or if the whole word is altered by a prefix." (page 66)

An example:

My brother saw a big brown bear
Sleeping on the ground, so bare.

Using "bear" and "bare" does not create an acceptable rhyme - it is still the exact same sound. Another

All of the new world I do claim,
And of the old this day disclaim.

Just because you disguised 'claim' by adding the prefix does not mean you've created a good rhyme or
have fooled anyone. The the consonant before the rhyming vowel must be different to create a good
rhyme. Take the above poems and do this -

My brother saw a big brown bear
With long and mangy-looking hair.

All of the new world I do claim,
And to it I will give my name.

Now at least, each has a good rhyme. The consonant before the rhyming vowel is different, giving the
reader the variety of sound that pleases the ear.
I learn better when I write about what I'm learning - because of this, I sometimes appear to have
worksheets for many, many subjects.

I've recently set out to more-seriously learn the rules of hymn metering, so I'm writing these
worksheets. As I learn more I'll add more, so please come back and see what more I've learned. And
yes, all my musician friends, now that I'm learning these all-important standards, watch for me to be
revising hymn texts that you've been telling me need revising...

Most of the information on these worksheets are from the following books, which I highly

(Chicago, Illinois; GIA Publications, 1965, 1982) ISBN 0-941050-02-5

(New York, NY, Doubleday, 1991) ISBN 0-385-41350-5

I acknowledge that I have relied on and used a lot of material from these two books in making these
worksheets. If anyone feels I do not give them enough credit, please write me and I will do more to
acknowledge them.


'Metering' is the flow of accented and unaccented syllables in a poem or in a song. Through the
centuries of trial and error, composers and singers have settled on several metering patterns that feel
good to the vast majority of singers and have become 'standard' metering schemes for hymnists to
employ in any given language. (I of course am covering patterns in the English language.) There are
variations to all metering patterns, and there are many hymns that do not follow any of the 'standard'
schemes. But instead of studying the exceptions, let's first learn the standards so we'll know when
we're attempting an exception (and why).

A metering pattern is also called a 'foot'. (I don't know why so please don't ask.) A metering foot is
made up of at least one unaccented syllable and at least one accented syllable. Because my computer
fonts don't have the widely-used symbols, I will use the following symbols which make sense to me:

u  =  unaccented syllable
A  =  accented syllable

The four standard metering foot's are:

Iambic foot ..... ( u A ) ..... "devotion" ..... these are the texts referred to as being the more stately
and noble ... Imagine that first, third, fifth, etc, syllable of each line is when you are raising your hand
up, and the second, fourth, etc syllable is when you are bringing it down to beat on the drum (or bang
the hammer, or any other example someone has used in your presence...):

( u A )  ( u A )  ( u A )  ( u A )
(How SWEET) (the NAME) (of JE-) (sus SOUNDS)
(JeSUS,) (the VE-) (ry THOUGHT) (of THEE)
(I HEARD) (the BELLS) (on CHRIST-) (mas DAY)
(A POOR) (Way-FAR-) (ing MAN) (of GRIEF)

Hey! I saw that! You were trying to beat out the music and not the words!
When learning text metering, you have to put aside music and concentrate on the words and on the
word patterns. So - no more beating out the tune until we're done with the text!

CLICK HERE for examples of various Iambic Metering Patterns.

Trochaic foot ..... ( A u ) ..... "strength & directness" ..... these are the texts that have an
immediate impact right in the first syllable. They are considered to be more direct of thought and stir
more of an immediate emotional feeling than the quieter, devotional feeling of the Iambic metering.
On the other hand, they also end with the unaccented "feminine" accent, which leaves many hymnists
preferring to use Iambic patterns for tests that need to end on a strong note.
Imagine the drum beat on the first, third, fifth, etc, syllable of each line:

( A u )  ( A u )  ( A u )  ( A u )
(COME, Thou) (FOUNT of) (E-very) (BLESS-ing)
(JOY-ful,) (JOY-ful,) (We A-) (DORE Thee)
(GUIDE us,) (O thou) (GREAT Je-) (HO-vah)

I can hear you asking - What difference can the accented syllable have in a hymn text?

A friend of mine once told me that when he was newly-married his father told him he should always
name his children with two-syllable names because it's easier for the children to tell what mood the
parent is in when they call them. I examined this concept, and here is what I discovered in my own
family - when I'm simply calling my children in for the night, or for a meal, I call their name as if it
were written in an Iambic foot:

dan-YULL (Daniel)

But... when I am mad or there is an emergency or I am otherwise excited, or I really want their
attention NOW, their name is called in a Trochaic meter:

DAN-yull (Daniel)

Hymn texts come out much the same way. Generally speaking, Iambic hymns are calmer, more
stately (dan-YULL). Trochaic hymns, on the other hand, get you jumping right up at attention
(DAN-yull!). Consider the effect of the metering in these two songs:

CLICK HERE for examples of Trocaic metering patterns.

Dactylic foot ( A u u ) and Anapestic foot ( u u A ) are not used for hymn text as much as
Iambic and Trochaic feet. Pure dactylic appears to be the most rare as it is traditionally dependant on
Latin word forms, and most Christians don't sing much Latin anymore. Anapestic is a classic poetic
foot that was not considered fit for hymn use until Charles Wesley used it - and used it a lot.

My Country, 'Tis of Thee
God Save the King
Come, Let Us Anew
Praise to the Lord, The Almighty

MIXED METER ... Used carefully, the writer can employ rising and falling meter and produce a
beautiful text.

Oh, and there is also IRREGULAR METER ... the designation for all those hymn text that just don't
match up with any sort of formal metering.

Hymnastics 102:
Hymn Metering & Rhymning
  Common Hymn Text Rhyming Patterns:
4-line stanza  
  6-line stanza
 8-line stanza    

Iambic (u A)

a-MAZ-ing GRACE! How SWEET the
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears re-lieved;
How pre-cious did that grace ap-pear
The hour I first be-lieved.

Trochaic (A u)

HARK! the HER-ald AN-gels SING
Glor-y to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mer-cy mild,
God and sin-ners re-con-ciled!
Joy-ful, all ye na-tions, rise;
Join the tri-umph of the skies;
With an-gel-ic host pro-claim
Christ is born in Beth-le-hem!
Hark! the her-ald an-gels sing
Glor-y to the new-born King!