Half Rhyme

Breaking Down Half Rhyme

Half Rhyme (also called near rhyme, slant rhyme, oblique rhyme), is a form of consonantal rhymeOpens in new window in which the vowelOpens in new window sounds differ; but the consonantOpens in new window sounds, those at the beginning of the rhyme syllable as well as the terminal (final) ones, are the same. Thus, half rhyme occurs when there is consonance or agreement on the final consonants of the words involved without the vowel sound corresponding.

Half Rhyme is widely used in Irish, Welsh, and Icelandic verses. Thus, we have as example—ill and shell; dropped and wept.

In a full rhyme, it is conventional that the connected words have its vowel sounds matching the final consonant sounds i.e. “bug” and “mug.” In the case of half rhyme, the stressed syllables of ending consonant sounds are usually matched, but does not match the preceding vowel sounds. It can also occur in reverse order where the vowel sounds are matched, and the consonant sounds are unmatched.

Where the use of a full rhyme may give an impression of confidence and completeness, a half-rhyme can help to create a sense of unease or disturbance. You may also come across the terms imperfect rhyme, near rhyme, oblique rhyme, off rhyme, and slant rhyme — they all mean the same.

Notable Examples of Half Rhyme
  • Safe in their Alabaster Chambers
    Untouched by Morning
    And untouched by Noon
    Lie the meek members of the Resurrection
    Rafter of Satin and Roof of Stone!
  • (one of Emily Dickinson’s untitled poems)

    Here we can observe the criss-crossing effect; how noon and stone are half-rhymes, and how they slant to bring the s and t sounds of satin. This echo in satin and stone is especially effective because of the opposite nature of the substances associated in the material of the coffin and the tomb, both so far from the light of noon.
  • Now in the morning all the town is filled
    With stories of the swift and dark invasion;
    The women say that not one strager told
    A reason for his coming. The intrusion
    Was not for devastation:
    Peace is apparent still on hearth and field.
  • (Elizabeth Jennings, The Enemies.)

    Here the scheme of the half rhyme runs on the pattern of ababba
  • That is no country for old men. The young
    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
    – Those dying generations – at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unageing intellect.
  • (B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium)
Further Readings:
Hollander, J. (1989) Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse, new ed., London: Yale University Press.;
Dickinson, Emily (1951): The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Boston, London: Little, Brown.
Elizabeth Whittome: Cambridge International AS and A Level Literature in English Coursebook