What is a true limerick and how do you write one?

This hub was birthed out of months of frustration. Alleged “limericks” were being posted on a semi-regular basis on Hubpages and yet they were NOT limericks. Don’t get me wrong, they may have been clever poetry, witty plays on words or even rhyme, but they were not true limericks.

From an early age I have always loved writing funny rhymes. I still, to this day, enjoy making up alternative words for songs with comedic undertones. It’s something that seems to come naturally to me. With that joy, I have also embraced limericks over the years. I have come up with numerous ones, but they have all had one thing in common – they have followed the traditional limerick form. So what is that, and why don’t all “limericks” qualify?

My intention here is not to delve into the origins of limericks but instead to outline the standard and accepted format one takes. So here goes:

The basic make up of a limerick

Length:

A limerick is a made up of five (5) lines.

Format:

The limerick should clearly fall into the aabba form, with lines 1,2 & 5 being similar and lines 3 & 4 being similar.

Rhyme:

The first (1st), second (2nd) and fifth (5th) lines should all end rhyming with one another.

The third (3rd) and fourth (4th) lines should also end rhyming with one another.

Syllables:

The first (1st), second (2nd) and fifth (5th) lines should be made up of eight (8) syllables.

The third (3rd) and fourth (4th) lines should be made up of five (5) syllables.

Although this would be a perfect limerick style of syllable use, there is a little bit of leeway when it comes to syllables so long as the words fall into the scan pattern.

Scan:

The question to ask oneself when writing a limerick is, “Does it scan when I read it?” or “Am I having to struggle to make all of my words fit into each line?”



An example of a limerick that follows the correct scan pattern:


*** Note that the BOLD represents emphasis on that particular syllable


An EPicure DIning at CREWE (8 syllables)

Found QUITE a large MOUSE in his STEW (8 syllables)

His WIFE said “Don’t SHOUT (5 syllables)

And WAVE it aBOUT (5 syllables)

The REST will be WANting one TOO!” (8 syllables)

Note the rhyming words – “Crewe” “stew” “too”….and “shout” “about”

Now, a limerick that does NOT scan:

There was a young man from the coast (8 syllables - good start!)

Who wanted to make himself some toast (9 syllables, but good rhyme)

He got out of his bed (6 syllables)

And went to the pantry for some bread (9 syllables)

And ran headfirst into a ghost (8 syllables)

On face value, some might put this forth as a limerick. After all it has five (5) lines, it rhymes and it has a somewhat humourous tone to it. BUT, but, but... it doesn't scan by using the correct number of syllables.

It should not be necessary to "force" the words into the limerick by contorting the way they are said, or the speed they are spoken. The limerick should simply flow so as not to take away from the comedic content.


Another "false" limerick:

A limerick could possibly scan well, but not rhyme like this one:

There was a young lass from Dundee

Who loved to go shopping for boots

She went to the store

To look at their stock

But came home with flip-flops instead.

There are the correct five (5) lines, with the correct syllables making it scan easily, but in this case the lines don't rhyme correctly.


Here's another true limerick for you:

*** Again the BOLD represents emphasis on that particular syllable


An INdolent VICar from BRAY (8 Syllables)

Let his LOVEly red ROSes deCAY (9 syllables)

His WIFE, more alERT (5 syllables)

Bought a POWerful SQUIRT (6 syllables)

And SAID to her SPOUSE, "Let us SPRAY!" (8 syllables)


Although the number of syllables differed in this last limerick, it still scans correctly and follows the aabba format. It rhymes and is easy to read or say without verbal gymnastics to make it fit!


The Limerick Challenge...

So there you have it. Now I want to throw out the challenge to all you "Limerickians" out there. Go on, give it a go and try to come up with an ORIGINAL limerick that fits the format I have outlined. Write it in the comments section below and I will choose my favourite. That person will have their hubs promoted by me to the ends of the world...


A parting limerick...

One night I was trying to sleep

By counting a number of sheep

When the counting was done

I'd start back at one

I've been counting for 93 weeks!


(That literally took me 30 seconds to make up...)

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Comments 17 comments

flashmakeit profile image

flashmakeit 4 years ago from usa

I have often wondered how do you write a limerick. Thanks for the useful tips.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Thank you for the clarification. I have read quite a few "limericks" in the past month and I was convinced that many of them were not true limericks. You have confirmed that for me. Good job!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

All I can say is this is interesting.


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

@flashmakeit - all you gotta do now is try one...lol.

@billybuc - Your comment is humbly received, coming from a superior hubber as yourself. Thank you.

@Mhatter99 - "interesting" works for me. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 4 years ago

I'm gonna try one! Mhatter is AWESOME at limericks!

He's my limericks hero...lol..

He's just an old man from the bar,

at nighttime he pees in a jar,

But when morning breaks,

A look-see he takes,

And finds it all over the floor!

True? Or False? LOL


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

@ImKarn23 - I am both excited at the prospect, and yet scared skinny at the possible content... so I wait with baited breath....


ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 4 years ago

Thanks for the information about limerick. It is really interesting to know how to write it.

I always laugh at the limericks of Mhatter99!

Voted up and useful.


bizarrett81 profile image

bizarrett81 4 years ago from Maine

Very informative and entertaining. I never really knew what a limerick was. You are pretty quick witted ; )


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

@bizarrett81 - I shall take that as a compliment.... I think :^}


bizarrett81 profile image

bizarrett81 4 years ago from Maine

It's a compliment lol, I envy anyone that can come up with clever remarks quickly. I am always the one left thinking, ten minutes later, well THAT would have been funny to say!


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

...but sometimes quick wit can get one in trouble. I speak from experience. Have yerself a great day!


bizarrett81 profile image

bizarrett81 4 years ago from Maine

Haha, yes I agree. You too!


Ghaelach 4 years ago

Hi petenali.

I'll give this a try.

---

Jimmy white had a fright

In the middle of the night

Saw a ghost eating toast

Halfway up a lamp post.

---

I t might not be a true Limerick but it sounds good.

In what category would you put this little ditti in?

The funny thing is Jimmy White is my actual name and I can trace this ditti back to when I was 5/7 years old (1955 approx).

Great hub

LOL Ghaelach


petenali profile image

petenali 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

@Ghaelach - although this has no resemblance to a true "limerick", it certainly did make me chuckle. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to "give it a try". When I read your name, I was immediately reminded of the snooker player Jimmy White, said to be the best player never to have won the World Snooker Championship. Never heard of him? Google it!


Ghaelach 4 years ago

Jimmy White was the people's champion and whenever he had a match we'd all be there watching and keeping our fingers crossed.

He was more widely known as I was but I was better looking and better at darts lol.

Glad you got a chuckle out of my, shall we say ryhme.

Take care and have a great day.

LOL Ghaelach


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

This is so cool, I have always wanted to be able to write one but I guess it is not one of my long suits. I don't seem to be able to get the rhyme thing down and now trying to is stuck in my head. I enjoyed the read.....Thanks for the info. and keep hubbing


Eman 18 months ago

genuinely enjoy both Stephen King and Joe Hill (Horns is excellent) so I'm ecxited to read a collaboration. And, really, there is something truly creepy about empty rest stops (and great expanses of tall grass). My husband and I were driving through Kansas in the middle of the night. He had a migraine, so he took medication and passed out in the passenger seat. I had to stop at an empty rest stop (and I did not want to). I would've lost it if something cried out from the grass.

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