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How to Write a Sonnet

Updated on March 4, 2008

What is a Sonnet?

Sonnets are fourteen lined poems with a strict rhyme scheme. Depending on whether the sonnet is an Italian sonnet or an English, or Shakespearean, sonnet, the rhyme scheme will vary just a little.

You may, also, hear about the lesser known sonnet, the spenserian sonnet, which, also, has its own rhyme scheme.

Poets that are famous for writing sonnets include, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barret Browning, John Milton, William Wordsworth, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

How to Write a Sonnet

  1. Select the subject. Most sonnets tell tales of love or philosophy.
  2. Make two sections. The first section will describe the problem, and the second section will provide the climax and conclusion.
  3. Write your sonnet.

Format

Make sure to have 14 lines.

English sonnets are laid out as 3 quatrains (3 sections of 4 lines each) and a pair (section of 2 lines).

The Italian sonnet is formatted with a octane (set of 8 lines) and a sextet (set of 6 lines).

Sometimes you will find sonnets with only 10 lines, but remember that the traditional sonnet will have 14.

Rhyme Schemes

Depending on the style of sonnet (Italian, English, or Spenserian), you will want to keep a specific rhyme scheme.

  • Italian sonnet:

First written as: a b a b, a b a b, c d e c d e

Now written as: a b b a, a b b a, c d c c d c

  • English sonnet:

a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g

  • Spenserian sonnet:

a b a b, b c b c, c d c d, e e

(Matching letters have the same rhyming sound.)

In regards to more modern sonnets, they may not rhyme, but they still keep the 14 line format.

Other Tips

Try writing the lines of in iambic pentameter, where you choose words in such as way that causes every other syllable to have a strong, stressed sound, which creates the effect that the line line ends with a strong sound.

Try to get about ten syllables per line.

When you think you're stumped. Take a break, but make sure to go back and rework and rewrite your sonnet. It may take you extra time to get it right in the end, but the time that you put into writing and editing your poem, the happier you will be with it in the end.

Example of a Sonnet

Here's a quick sonnet, I through together. Don't fault me too bad. It's not meant to be serious, and trust me it's a little rough, but for the most part, it's meant as an example of the correct format and rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet.

I bought a small, tiny puppy

From a man beneath the trees.

I was lucky to avoid getting bit by the fleas.

My landlord pitched a fit, but she fell in love quickly.

We patted him off not only because he was smelly

But in hopes my Yorkie would tease

Instead he ran the other direction. I had to beg him "Please

Come out and see our new puppy."

After a few months, he began to grow big.

Bright blue eyes, fawn hair, and feet.

No plant left unaltered because he began to dig.

He ate everything in site, I swore I was raising a pig.

His favorite treat was meat,

But a hog nonetheless, he was definitely getting big.

Writing Sonnets

When writing a sonnet, it may be easier to choose a topic that comes easy to you.

  • Something or someone you love dearly.
  • Someone you admire.
  • Personal religious philosophy.

Find something that you're passionate about and write.

Sonnets are meant to be about love, infatuation, philosophy, and personal belief. The stronger you feel about the subject, the easier the poem will come to you.

Comments

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    • profile image

      BayD1004 5 years ago

      This helped me so much! I had to write a poetry book for english and a sonnet was one of my poems and I completely forgot the format for this!!! This hub helped me so much thanks Whitney!!!

    • profile image

      my awesome sonnet 5 years ago

      i wrote a fantastic sonnet for my English honors course but i forgot to put 3 quatrains and only had 2 LOL. i hope the teacher doesn't notice that my sonnet's shorter than everyone else's because it's missing 4 whole lines!!!!! but i rhymes beautifully and perfectly so i think that may have covered it up nicely ;D

    • profile image

      Amanda 6 years ago

      While some of the info on this page is good, I don't see how the poem you wrote is a sonnet, just because you try to stick to a rhyme scheme. It doesn't follow the iambic pentameter, 10 syllable count and the volta that should appear in the 9th or 13th line. This guide needs a facelift.

    • profile image

      serena palmer  6 years ago

      great website. thanks alot whitney, you really helped me with my poetry writing. also great hub.

    • profile image

      TYLER 6 years ago

      This forgets some vital information, a traditional english sonnet will have

      10 syllables per line &

      Stressed/unstressed ( iambic )

    • profile image

      jag 6 years ago

      I am writing my mother's obituary in preparation of her passing. Would a sonnet be appropriate?

    • Whitney05 profile image
      Author

      Whitney 7 years ago from Georgia

      the 'a' and 'b' letters just represent the sound. For example if that words on the following lines were cat, tree, bat, bee; the rhyme scheme would be a,b,a,b

    • profile image

      :) loveyoudearly 7 years ago

      i don't really understand the whole a b b a rhyme scheme thing, I am new to poetry. HELPPP!!!

    • cupid51 profile image

      cupid51 7 years ago from INDIA

      This is very nice hub for the people who like poetry and have interest in writing poems. Thanks for sharing this tutorial!

    • WRKennedy profile image

      WRKennedy 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for this hub on my favourite form of poetry. The sonnet form should not be seen as limiting. You should find the structure that works best for your poem. The fact that it is short and structured lends itself to deep, serious subjects, but you can also play on this so that the effect can be humorous as well.

      For example, I have written sonnets in trochaic tetrameter (i.e. the opposite stress from iambic with four beats (i.e. 8 syllables) to the line). That gives the poem a sing song feel, which works for humor.

      There can also be 3 sections rather than 2. If you take the Shakespearean rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EE, the final couplet gives you a dramatic third section which you can use to drive home your point.

      Great hub!

    • profile image

      hey 8 years ago

      Your website halped alot and thanks. However, there can only be 10 syllables per line!! So you might want to change that but, everything else was good and helpful!!

    • profile image

      Hayle 9 years ago

      thank you it really helped me!

      I love this website! i'll keep it in mind!

    • profile image

      O.G. 9 years ago

      down sonnet!!!

    • singpec476 profile image

      singpec476 9 years ago from Not Too Far Away

      Great sonnet Whitney and very amusing, I loved it.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Great hub Whitney! I'll link my EBB hub to this one.

    • Rapidwriter profile image

      Rapidwriter 9 years ago from UK

      Lovely hub. There are so few about literature - specially about poetry. I have a friend who writes plays in Skaespearean mode and I think still writes a sonnet each day on his website - Ryan J Smith. Do have a look. He's quite the expert.

      Thanks, Whitney.

    • darkside profile image

      Glen 9 years ago from Australia

      Cool!

      I was about to publish a snippet about sonnets. Though not quite as long and detailed as yours. I still will, but I'll publish it at Gather. And I'll be linking to this hub!

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