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What is a Sonnet? Origination, Definition, Characteristics and Example of a Sonnet

Updated on March 19, 2012

Introduction and Origination of Sonnet

A Sonnet is a specialized form of poetry, which was extensively used by the greatest poet, William Shakespeare, and many other English poets. A sonnet is believed to be originated in the Europe. However, the word “sonnet” is believed to be precisely derived from Italian word ‘sonetto’, which means ‘a little song’.

William Shakespeare was a very famous sonnet writer. He wrote 154 sonnets. However, to be precise, he wrote much more than that. This figure of 154 sonnets does not include the ones, which he used exclusively in many plays.

As compared to many other forms of poems, which may be much more complicated, writing a sonnet is a comparatively easier task. However, in the beginning, it looks a bit daunting.

How To Write A Sonnet:

Are you willing to learn and write sonnets? Following are some of the essential characteristics that you must learn, in order to write a sonnet.

Essentials and Characteristics of a Sonnet:

Following are some of the essential characteristics of writing a sonnet.

Note: Kindly note that the following characteristics belong to the most familiar way of writing sonnet i.e. the Shakespearean sonnets.

1. Number of Lines:

A sonnet should consist of 14 lines. These lines are divided into a certain pattern, which is, 4 quatrains.

2. Quatrains:

A Shakespearean sonnet consists of 4 quatrains. The above 14 lines are divided according to the following pattern:

1. First 4 lines = 1st Quatrain

2. Next 4 lines = 2nd Quatrain

3. Next 4 lines = 3rd Quatrain

4. Last 2 lines = 4th Quatrain

Note, that the last 4th quatrain is more of a couplet. Some authors prefer to call it is a quatrain, while others believe that it should only be termed as a ‘couplet’. For the sake of clarification, I mentioned both.

3. The Iambic Pentameter:

William Shakespeare used to write his sonnets in the Iambic Pentameter. However, there were also some other authors, who used some other variants.

A Shakespearean sonnet is written by the Iambic Pentameter. ‘Penta’ means 5. In this format, there are 5 sets of stressed and unstressed syllables.

da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM

4. The Rhyming Scheme:

As the sonnet will consist of 14 lines, the rhyming scheme will be as follows:

1st Quatrain:

Line 1 = A

Line 2 = B

Line 3 = A

Line 4 = B

2nd Quatrain:

Line 5 = C

Line 6 = D

Line 7 = C

Line 8 = D

3rd Quatrain:

Line 9 = E

Line 10 = F

Line 11 = E

Line 12 = F

Couplet or the 4th Quatrain:

Line 13 = G

Line 14 = G

5. Construction of Sonnet:

The above-mentioned rules should be considered, while writing a sonnet. However, this is only the beginning. The sonnet is constructed in a specific way. Its quatrain consists of a story in it. The traditional Shakespearean way to use all of its 4 quatrains is:

1. 1st Quatrain: The theme is introduced

2. 2nd Quatrain: The theme is explored further. The metaphors also extend in this quatrain.

3. 3rd Quatrain: Usually a twist lies in the 3rd quatrain. Shakespeare often started the 3rd quatrain with ‘but’. (See the example at the end of this article).

4. 4th Quatrain or the Couplet: The poet summarizes the theme, and left the reader with an imaginative conclusion.

Example of Sonnet:

There are hundreds of Sonnets available to read. Following is an example of a sonnet, written by William Shakespeare. Try to apply all the above rules on it, and you will understand it thoroughly.

Shakespear's Sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,
Nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


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    • profile image

      Chaminda Hema Kumara 13 months ago

      Thanks for updating the knowledge of mine on sonnets.Every information is given factually.

    • esatchel profile image

      PDGreenwell 2 years ago from Kentucky

      Well explained! The Sonnet is my favorite form!

    • profile image

      ATUL NAYAN 2 years ago

      Its so simple expl. ;thanks

    • profile image

      brekhna 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for giving the esiest explanation

    • Sheila Wilson profile image

      Sheila Wilson 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      thorough explanation of how to write a sonnet. Nice work!

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 6 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Just I came to know about sonnet. Thanks for sharing. Voted Up.

    • profile image

      kinzamehboob 6 years ago

      really its very easy to understand u done a great job thank u so much for sharing this.

    • Hunbbel Meer profile image

      Syed Hunbbel Meer 6 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      @Uzma Shaheen, @Annart: Thank you so much for your kind words. I would suggest you to go for it. It is a great art :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 6 years ago from SW England

      Interesting and clear explanation of the sonnet form. I might give it a go! Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • uzma shaheen profile image

      Uzma Shaheen Bhatti 6 years ago from Lahore,Pakistan

      Another informative hub, as usual.thank you for sharing, it is a good adition in my knowledge.