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What You Need to Know About Limericks

Mother and Son Reading a Funny Book
Limericks are short, funny poems about life to which everyone can relate. Whether referring to real events or fantasy, they make us smile and liven up our day. They appeal to all age groups, are great for sharing with family and friends, and are particularly satisfying when read out loud.

Here is an example of a limerick:

Sunbaking Lizard

Sunbaking one day on a rock,
A lizard was in for a shock,
A bird hunting prey,
Whisked his tail clear away!
Poor stumpy is still taking stock. (Author: M Humphries)

Traditional Limericks – a Bit of History

The first books containing limericks were published in England in the 1820’s as nonsense verses for children[1]. They became popular in the middle to late 1800’s following the publication of A Book of Nonsense written by Edward Lear. Published by Thomas McLean in two volumes in February,1846, the first edition consisted of seventy-two limericks which were added to in later editions.

Traditional limericks often began with the words,
There once was a man/woman from . . .
The last word of the first line (Line 1) was often repeated at the end of the last line (Line 5) as shown in this famous limerick by Edward Lear:

Old Man with a Beard[2]

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’

Personally, I prefer a different rhyming word at the end of the Line 5 from the last word in Line 1. This is more challenging to write but adds more detail and interest for the reader.

When reading aloud either of the above limericks, can you feel the rhythm as you speak and identify the rhyming pattern?

What Makes a Poem a Limerick?

The short answer is:

Limericks have five lines and a set format for rhythm, rhyme and length of lines (number of syllables) as follows:

  • Lines 1, 2, and 5 have seven to ten syllables and each line ends with the same sound (A).
  • Lines 3 and 4 have five to seven syllables and both lines end with the same sound (B). The rhyming pattern is therefore AABBA.
  • The rhythm of each line begins with an unstressed syllable (sometimes two unstressed syllables), then a pattern of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables and finishes with a stressed syllable.

Limericks usually tell stories and are fun!

To find out more about what makes a poem a limerick, enter your email address in the sidebar and download my free PDF, Guide for Understanding Limericks.

In this PDF I share with you another three original limericks of my own and show how their rhyme, rhythm and length of lines (number of syllables) make them limericks.

You will see what syllables are, what is meant by stressed and unstressed syllables and how these make up the rhythm patterns of limericks.

Knowing exactly what limericks are, you may wish to write one. I’d love to see what positive, family-friendly limericks you can create! Let me know in the comments below this post.

Don’t forget to download my free PDF, Guide for Understanding Limericks from the sidebar.

[1] http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/limbooks/index.html accessed 2/10/2018

[2] https://nonsenselit.wordpress.com/limericks-1903/ accessed 30/11/18

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