How to write a Limerick - pulse, rhythm & rhyme

Regarding Copyright:

All the limericks on this hub are originals by Paraglider, except the selection from Edward Lear, which is clearly attributed.

A typical limerick -

The trouble with wearing the tartan
is everyone thinks you're a Spartan
who relishes cold
in the goolies. (I'm told
the best way to heat 'em is fartan!)

What makes a limerick?

A limerick is a short verse in a well-defined form which we'll look at soon. Most limericks are (or are meant to be) funny or silly. Many are risque. Some are downright obscene. Very few are serious, as the form isn't equipped to carry deeper thoughts or emotions.

This is not a limerick:

The Anglo-Saxon
brays like a klaxon
but the words of the Celt
are deeply felt.

Yet it is a short humorous verse, so, clearly what differentiates the limerick from other light verses is its adherence to a recognised (and immediately recognisable) metrical pattern, or form.

The limerick has four ingredients:

  1. the verse form
  2. the pulse
  3. the rhythm
  4. the rhyme

Let's look at these in turn, starting with...

The Verse Form

The limerick has five lines. Lines 1, 2 & 5 are the same length as each other. Lines 3 & 4 match each other, but are shorter than 1, 2 & 5. So far, so good, but how long is long and how short is short? This brings us to...

The Pulse

Lines 1, 2 & 5 have exactly three strong beats that you can clap or tap your foot to. They also have a fourth silent beat at the end of the line, which you feel, but don't hear, before you move on to the next line. Lines 3 & 4 have exactly two strong beats, but no silent beat at the end. So the pulse is like this:

clap clap clap (duh)
clap clap clap (duh)
clap clap
clap clap
clap clap clap (duh)

Every limerick follows this pulse. A verse that doesn't conform isn't necessarily wrong, or bad, but it just isn't a limerick.

The Rhythm

Limericks are always written with a triplet rhythm. To understand this, compare the words camera and football. Read this aloud and you'll hear the difference:

camera camera camera camera football football football football

So, the triplet (camera) rhythm is always used in limericks. The duplet (football) rhythm is not. Now apply camera to the regular clapping pulse, and you get this:

a camera camera man (duh)
a camera camera man (duh)
a camera man
a camera man
a camera camera man (duh)

And that is the basic verse form, pulse and rhythm of every limerick. Slight variations are normal and inevitable, but again, unless your verse conforms to that underlying pattern, it simply isn't a limerick.

The Rhyme

This is the easiest part. Lines 1, 2 & 5 (the longer lines) rhyme with each other. Lines 3 & 4 (the short lines) rhyme together. Because limericks are very short, the rhyming is expected to be good. Try to avoid 'near misses' like foot/tooth or hat/cut.

And that's it

If you can follow these four basic rules (verse, pulse, rhythm, rhyme) you will produce 'correct' limericks. But will they be any good? That's up to you. It depends on your ideas, your judgment, your inner ear. And lots of practice. By the way, limericks do not have to begin - There was an old man - in fact it's quite refreshing when they don't. One last thought: please steer clear of Nantucket. It's been done to death and wasn't worth doing in the first place! Have fun :)

Edward Lear

Edward Lear's limericks are different in that the last line is more or less a throwaway variation of line 1. But Lear's limericks were for children and half the joy of them is in his wonderfully crazy illustrations.

There was an old man of Spithead,
Who opened the window, and said, -
'Fil-jomble, fil-jumble,
Fil-rumble-come-tumble!'
That doubtful old man of Spithead.

(Edward Lear - Book of Nonsense)

A Few Examples

There was an old man who throughout
a lifetime of worry and doubt
could never determine
if under his ermine
King Henry was skinny or stout.

There was an old man who although
his birth had occurred long ago
when quietly told
"Good sir, you are old"
grew angry and shouted "Not so!"

John Dowland was talented, young
and handsome, and famously hung
but said "If I bang
the Queen, I will hang
and none of my songs will be sung!"

Your comments are welcome, especially if you send them as limericks. But please respect others' copyright.

More by this Author


Comments 60 comments

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

There is a wise man called Paraglider

whom many consider a knowledge provider

here on hubpages

without any wages

everyday whose audience is getting wider


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I'm here for the fun of it, Honey,

with no expectation of money.

It's for people like you

that I do what I do.

You make every day turn out sunny!

Thanks for being first to contribute in kind :)


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider that limerick was so funny

thanks for saying that I make it "sunny"

to me your words are as sweet as honey

which brings more happiness than money


gwendymom profile image

gwendymom 7 years ago from Oklahoma

You guys are so cute you should be making lots of loot here at hp, where we seem to write for free

I tried.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

With Adsense a penny a click

we'll make you a millionaire quick

as long as your writing 

is flash and exciting

not tepid or turgid or sick!

Keep them coming, ladies :)


gwendymom profile image

gwendymom 7 years ago from Oklahoma

Paraglider, I am not much of a writer, I try my best, but I have to attest I am not among the best


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

Gwendy I would beg to differ

anyday your words I prefer

when your presence's on offer

no one would never ever suffer

paraglider don't worry about clicks

when you have impressed us chicks

who don't care if you are a millionaire

since we are so charmed with your flair


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

He’ll write you a limerick ‘how to’

Or even a wine how to home brew

But when lads ask him how

Fair ladies to wow

That’s something he just won’t get into :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Dear ladies (may I call you fans?)

we're none of us mere also-rans.

We write to provoke

to complain or to joke,

not to forward nefarious plans!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Amanda Severn’s Donkey Oatey

Has a following old, grey and motley

There’s Sancho Panzass

B.T. adds the pizzazz

Old Cervantes he ne’er got so arty!

Mandy.....where are you????


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Please revive your limerick writing fun......I'll start

Now, PG, you see what you've done.

These hubbers are all having fun

creating a batch

of limericks from scratch

and posting them one after one.

So, why don't you post a request?

for hubbers to all try their best

a limerick to write

all out in plain sight.

Make a forum a fun writing fest.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

A forum? I'll post one in Arts

tomorrow. We'll see if it starts

a limerick flurry.

There's nothing to worry

about if it rockets, or farts...

 


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I thank you my friend from my heart.

I see that you're doing your part

to start a new forum

for limericks ad lorem.

Just hope they will rocket, not fart.


marcofratelli profile image

marcofratelli 7 years ago from Australia

It's all I've been doing here lately

These lim'ricks keep rollin' on out o' me

From the land of the koala

Take my hat off, thank allah

Much respect, I've enjoyed it greatly :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

A natural cure for urbanity,

to write them appeals to our vanity.

Though slightly restrictive

the form is addictive

and sometimes can lead to insanity.

Thanks Marco :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

I love limericks though confess I've never tried to write one. Just share this one which at one stage was adjudged the best ever, don't know if you've seen it before:

There was a young plumber from Dee

Who plumbed a young lass by the see.

Said she, cease your plumbing

I hear someone coming.

Said he, still plumbing, it's me!

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - surprisingly enough, I hadn't heard that one before!


Deborah-Lynn profile image

Deborah-Lynn 7 years ago from Los Angeles, California

What talented audacious fun

no wonder the bawdy have come

you put me to shame

but no ones' to blame

I just wrote this rhyme on the run!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Deborah-Lynn - glad you enjoyed. Keep on rhyming :)


Moulik Mistry profile image

Moulik Mistry 6 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

Beautiful lesson for a budding poet, thank you...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Moulik - thanks for the visit :)


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

To see if I've got this right,

And not seem completely trite,

I have to say

it's an odd way

For a lady to pass the night.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Paraglider - A fun article with good explanations and great examples. Limericks are both the worst and the best of poems.

Gus :-)))


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hey Gus - if you look overhead

there's a lady who can't go to bed

until she's explored

ways of not being bored...

(or at least I think that's what she said!)


ATTEMPTED HUMOUR 6 years ago

I'm a Pommie who's new to this game

So let's hope my writing's not lame

I'll just take my time

With the rhythm and rhyme

And if it's not right you're to blame


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

If that was a first, it's OK

I'd say that you're well on the way

to notching a score

of a dozen or more

if you trot a few out every day!


KFlippin profile image

KFlippin 6 years ago from Amazon

Entertaining hub! Plan to come back and read again tomorrow and try my hand at a limerick.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi KFlippin - please do. All limericks welcome!


psychlist profile image

psychlist 6 years ago from East Tennessee

By the writing craft I've been bitten

The desire to be published has me smitten

The most difficult part

Seems to be how to start...

Maybe I just want to have written


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Well, Art for Art's sake is OK

and surely a pleasanter way

to cure disappointment

than potions or ointment

applied to the head every day!


psychlist profile image

psychlist 6 years ago from East Tennessee

Do you focus on idea first or rhyme?

And do you do it the same every time?

I would pay good money

To make up something funny

Or compelling or insightful or sublime.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

A limerick's good for a laugh.

So what if it turns out naff?

Abandon it. Start

on another. Take heart -

you will soon sort the wheat from the chaff!


MidnightMadwoman 6 years ago

I won't leave the house underdressed

Shoes shined and pants freshly pressed

The whites of my eyes

Are DKNY

I've a Calvin Klein heart in my chest


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Nice one, MM - thanks :)


Tony Vink 6 years ago

sometimes when teammates are pulling manoeuvers,

they craftily try to sell you down the river,

I say: “do not yield!”

this tool you should wield

with a swish and swipe just graze, cut or sever!

what is it?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I haven't a clue, Tony, but thanks anyway, for the limerick riddle :)


Tony Vink 6 years ago

a knife... ;-)


snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 5 years ago from Canada

I thought I would sure like to try

But my efforts are making me cry

ThoI shouldn't care

if the feeling is there

and the humour is reasonbly wry


snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 5 years ago from Canada

Sorry about the typo paraglider, please may I try again?

I thought I would sure like to try

But my efforts are making me cry!

Though I shouldn't care

If the feeling is there

and the humour is reasonably wry


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Nice one - thanks for contributing in kind :)


gulnazahmad profile image

gulnazahmad 5 years ago from Pakistan

very informative, thanks for sharing. voted up!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thank you :)


the bunco squad profile image

the bunco squad 5 years ago from Savannah GA

There once was a man from chilli

Who had hundred of warts on his willy

He went to a nurse

And spoke of his cure

They were married last week in Philli


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks bunco :)


DanaTeresa profile image

DanaTeresa 4 years ago from Ohio

By the limerick bug I was bit

Did not know at all how to write it

Your great hub wish I had

I would not have gone mad

When I learned to write them bit by bit

....well, you get the idea. i have always loved limericks. a little but funny. a little bit naughy. a lot like me! Learning to write them has been a lot of fun. i have done it with a little research and a lot of practice. i have been getting some great responses. this is a wonderful explaination of what exactly these silly little poems are. there are a lot more complex than a lot of people give them credit for. nice job with this.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Dana Teresa - thanks for finding this old hub. Limericks can be a lot of fun. Composing them in your head is also a good way to pass time in a traffic jam!


ping pong 3 years ago

I think there's something wrong

with a game called ping pong

I will not say

why it's called this way

just say table tennis instead

just asking if its okay


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Except that your fifth line should rhyme with lines 1 & 2. Try another?


Alecia Dean 3 years ago

Hey Paraglider. Do I know you? I like your work.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Alecia - I don't think so, but good to 'meet' you :)


ping pong 3 years ago

There was a young fellow named Tim

Whose dad never taught him to swim

He fell of a dock

sunk like a rock

And that was the end of him


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi ping pong - thanks for responding in kind :)


chrisxiv 3 years ago

Hi, I've got a question. The words like 'was', 'cat', 'man', etc. are considered to be short beats, or vowels, but in limerick writing everybody seems to use them as long ones. It confuses me a bit, because I can't see the logic in it. And how can these two be the same rhythm pattern (da DUM da):

'there ONCE was...'

vs,

'there WAS...'

So, how can we use the same word once as a short beat, and next time as a long?' Sorry for the silly questions, but since I started to write limericks according to the rules, I lost all my confidence in it. Beforehand, I wrote dozens of them - although, they might not count as limericks in the light of the rules. :-)

Thank you for your reply in advance,

Best wishes,

Chris


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Chris - you are confusing the long/short distinction with the stressed/unstressed one. The stress depends on the underlying beat pattern. Of course it is also true that naturally strong words are best in the stressed positions in the line, and naturally weak words are best not promoted by placing them in stressed positions. Does that help?


chrisxiv 3 years ago

Hi Paraglider, thanks for the reply. It makes more sense now, indeed. But, I felt much better when I didn't worry about the stresses. Stresses cause me stress. I knew the basic rules: 5 lines, rhyme-pattern of AABBA, and the syllables (1st, 2nd, 5th: must be somewhere between 7 & 10 syllables, and lines 3rd, 4th: between 5-7 syllables). It was enough for me, but people started to talk about the lack of the ordinary limerick rhythm-pattern. Perhaps I'll ignore it again. :-)


chrisxiv 3 years ago

There once was a girl, who was called Chris,

And she was fully confused by this.

She just wanted to write,

But felt as an outright,

From Limerick, she moved to Paris.

(This was created for this entry. This is not one of my best lims, even in my opinion! :-D)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Chris - counting syllables only works for syllabic forms like Haiku. For metrical forms like Limericks, the pulse and rhythm are what matter.


chrisxiv 3 years ago

Sadly I'm not a native speaker, perhaps this makes it more complicated for me. And having a science degree doesn't help much in understanding, if it lacks logic. :-) That was why I tried to find a rational rule that would explain it to me. Your guide is really good, by the way. However, in this rhythm question I have to listen to my senses, instincts and feelings, if I'm not wrong. (I don't have any musical abilities, I don't play any of the instruments & I can't sing/dance either - supposedly these would help me, as well).


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Counting syllables makes me stress out,

It isn't what limericks are about.

The rhythm and pulse,

Above everything else,

Makes these silly verses stand out.

Great hub Paraglider. I have become addicted to writing limericks, but someone told me they had to be 8, 8, 5, 5, 8 syllables, so I was worried that some of mine were not really limericks but just nonsense verse. The info on this hub is helpful.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jodah - English language verse is not syllabic. The language is based on stresses or pulses which you feel as much as you hear. You're getting it right - hang on in there!

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