How to Write a Limerick
 
by Bruce Lansky
 

To help you get started writing limericks, here’s some helpful information about writing limericks.

To begin, a limerick is a funny little poem containing five lines. It has a very distinctive rhythm and rhyme pattern.

  • Rhyme Pattern: The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme with each other. We’ll call those rhyming words “A,” however the words could be “ Peru,” “shoe,” and “true” as illustrated in the first poem below or “Tim,” “swim,” and “him” as illustrated in the second poem below. And the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other. We’ll call those rhyming words “B,” however the words could be “night” and “fright” in the first example or “dock” and “rock” in the second example.
  • Rhythm Pattern: The first, second, and fifth lines all have this rhythm pattern: da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (notice there are 3 DUMS or beats). Say, “There once was a fellow named Tim” out loud. Now say, “da DUM da da DUM da da DUM” out loud. Notice that both have the same rhythm. The third and fourth lines have a different rhythm pattern: da DUM da da DUM (notice there are 2 DUMS or beats). Say, “He fell off the dock” out loud. Now say “da DUM da da DUM” out loud. Notice that both have the same rhythm.

Here is a very famous limerick. Notice both the rhyme and rhythm patterns.

There was an old man from Peru, (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS) who dreamed he was eating his shoe. (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS)
3.
He awoke in the night (B)
da DUM da da DUM (2 DUMS) with a terrible fright, (B)
da da DUM da da DUM (2 DUMS) 5.and found out that it was quite true. (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS)

When you write a limerick, make sure that it has the same AABBA rhyme pattern. Make sure it also has the same 3 DUMS, 3 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 3 DUMS rhythm pattern, too. To be sure, recite the poem, substituting “da” for all unaccented or unstressed syllables and “DUM” for all accented or stressed syllables, as I have done above. If your poem doesn’t have a similar rhythm pattern, then you need to make some adjustments.

Ideas for new limericks can come from almost anywhere. For example, your city, state, country, or name. If your name is Tim or Jim, you could write something like this:

A Clumsy Young Fellow Named Tim

  1. There once was a fellow named Tim (A)
  2. whose dad never taught him to swim. (A)
  3. He fell off a dock (B)
  4. and sunk like a rock. (B)
  5. And that was the end of him. (A)

Notice that the rhyme pattern (AABBA) and the rhythm pattern (3 DUMS, 3 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 3 DUMS) are almost identical to the rhythm and rhyme patterns in the “Man from Peru” limerick.

OK, now that you know what the rhythm and rhyme patterns of a limerick are, you’re ready to write one. Here are five simple steps to writing a limerick:

1.

An easy way to get started is to pick a boy’s or girl’s name that has one syllable (like Bill, Tim, Dick, Sue, or Jill).

There once was a fellow (or young girl) named ____(pick an easy name with one syllable). We’ll pick “Jill.” So the first line is:

“There once was a young girl named Jill.”

2.Now make a list of words that rhyme with the last word in the first line—in this case, Jill. Your list of rhyming words might include: hill, drill, pill, skill, bill, will, and ill. 3. Now write the second line using one of the rhyming words. Here’s an example:

“Who freaked at the sight of a drill.”

(Notice that the last words in the first two lines rhyme and that both the first and second lines contain 3 DUMS or beats.)4. Now think of an interesting story. What could happen to someone scared of a drill? Well, you might have an interesting story if Jill had to go to the dentist. Here’s what might happen in the third and fourth lines.

“She brushed every day.”

“So, her dentist would say,”

(Notice that “day” and “say,” the last words in the third and fourth lines, both rhyme. And notice there are 2 DUMS or beats in each line.) 5. Now you need to go back to the list of “A” rhyming words to find one that can end the poem. Here’s an example:

“Your teeth are quite perfect. No bill.”

Here’s the poem we just wrote:

There once was a young girl named Jill.
Who was scared by the sight of a drill.
She brushed every day
So her dentist would say,
“Your teeth are so perfect; no bill.”

Now try it yourself!

When you have written one you like, enter our Limerick Contest!

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