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

Updated on November 6, 2012

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


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


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


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.


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.


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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