Eye Rhyme

A rhyme is a repetition of similar or identical sounds in the syllables of two or more words. Keeping this definition in mind, we already have a sense of what an eye rhyme might be. Welcome to the world of eye rhyme, where letters and looks can be deceiving! It's the poetic version of 'spot the difference' game where words that look like they should rhyme, but don't actually rhyme when spoken. 

Eye Rhyme Eye Rhyme

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Table of contents

    Eye rhyme definition

    The definition of an eye rhyme is that it is a type of rhyme in which two or more words are spelled almost identically, yet pronounced differently. What's important is that they look like they should rhyme but don't.

    Eye Rhyme Image of the human eye StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 - Eye rhyme is a type of rhyme where words are spelt similarly but that sound different.

    Think of rhyming words, such as 'lie and pie', or 'clean and mean'. They are spelt and pronounced in similar ways (l-ye and p-ye; cl-een and m-een). This is an example of a perfect rhyme, which is when all the sounds after the initial letters are the same.

    Now take the words cough and rough. They are spelled similarly, so you might assume they are pronounced in the same way, but they are not (c-off and r-uff).

    The words lose and rose, although they have an identical ending (-ose), have different stressed vowel sounds and therefore different pronunciations. We refer to this as an eye rhyme.

    Eye rhymes are also known as visual rhymes or sight rhymes.

    Examples of eye rhymes

    There are many examples of eye rhymes in written communication. To really understand the linguistic role of eye rhymes in poetry, let's analyze part of G. Nolst Trenite's 'Drop Your Foreign Accent' (2020). This witty poem satirises the confusing nature of the English language.

    G. Nolst Trenite, 'Drop Your Foreign Accent' (Haarlem, 1920):

    Mark the differences, more over,

    Between mover, cover, clover;

    Leeches, breeches, wise, prices,

    Chalice, but police and lice;

    Camel, constable, unstable,

    Principle, disciple, label.

    Here, we have a number of words with mostly identical endings to at least one other word. Below is a list of the eye rhymes in the poem, and why their pronunciations distinguish them from perfect rhymes.

    • Moreover - More (oh-vur)

    • Mover - M (oo-vur)

    • Cover - C (uh-vur)

    • Clover -n Cl (oh-vur)

    The different sound created by the stressed vowel in each of these words is what makes the pronunciation of each word different.

    • Wise - W (iyz - e)

    • Precise - Pre (s-ic - e)

    Here, the stressed vowel 'i' produces two different pronunciations.

    • Chalice - Cha (l-ih-ss)

    • Police - Po (l-ee-se)

    • Lice - L (eye-ce)

    Again, the stressed 'i' vowel results in different pronunciations of the words.

    • Constable - Const (uh-b-ull)

    • Unstable - Unst (ay-b-ull)

    The stressed 'a' vowel creates a different pronunciation in the two words.

    • Principle - Princ (ih-pp-ull)

    • Disciple - Disc (eye-pp-ull)

    The stressed 'i' vowel creates a different pronunciation in the two words.

    Some poems are written with the explicit purpose of highlighting eye rhymes and the complexity of the English language. 'OUGH: A Fresh Hack at an Old Knot' (1894) by Charles Battell Loomis displays this perfectly.

    I'm taught plow Shall be pronouncé "plow." “Zat's easy w'en you know,” I say, “Mon Anglais, I'll get through!”

    My teacher say zat in zat case, Ough is "oo." And zen I laugh and say to him, "Zees Anglais make me cough."

    The speaker is clearly a French speaker, who is being taught English words. Notice that the speaker originally believes the -ough sound should be pronounced 'ow'.

    This changes by the end of the stanza, however, when the speaker realizes that 'through' is not pronounced thr-ow like pl-ow, but through like thr-oo. Loomis points out further inconsistency by eye rhyming through and plow with cough, which is again pronounced differently.

    Eye rhyme words

    Let's have a look at some examples of other words that are eye rhymes:

    • Cough, rough, plough, dough
    • Lose and rose
    • Alone and gone
    • Sew and pew
    • Hearth and earth
    • Comb and bomb
    • Crown and mown
    • You and thou
    • Go and do
    • Brood and blood
    • Clover and lover

    Historic eye rhymes

    Historic rhymes are rhymes that were originally written to be perfect rhymes but, due to the evolving nature of the English language, are now eye rhymes.

    Take Ernest Dowson's 'Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae' (1890):

    I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

    Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,

    Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind ...

    To those who have learned modern English language, wind (w-in-d) and mind (m-ine-d) are eye rhymes because although their endings are identical, they have different stressed 'i' vowel sounds.

    However, at the time of writing this poem, wind was typically pronounced as 'wined' in poetry. This would have been a perfect rhyme to contemporary listeners of the poem.

    Another example is Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 1' (1609)

    From fairest creatures we desire increase,That thereby beauty's rose might never die,But as the riper should by time decease,His tender heir might bear his memory;

    At the time, 'die' and 'memory' was a perfect rhyme, as the word endings are identical and they were previously pronounced with the same stressed vowel sound (d-ai and mem-or-ai).

    Nowadays, this has become an eye rhyme, as die (d-ai) and memory (mem-or-ee) are pronounced differently.

    Eye Rhyme, William Shakespeare, StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - William Shakespeare made use of eye rhyme in some of his poetry.

    Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 19' (1609) also uses eye rhymes:

    Devouring time, blunt thou the lion's paws,

    And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

    Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,

    And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood.

    'Brood' and 'blood' are eye rhymes. Although they are not pronounced the same (br-ew-d and bl-u-d) they make for a visually pleasing contribution to the stanza. It is likely this rhyme would have been performed not as a perfect rhyme (br-ud and bl-ud), but as a slant rhyme where the vowel sounds are different but consonants are identical.

    Why use eye rhymes?

    While eye rhymes are not as auditorily pleasing as perfect rhymes, eye rhymes are a device typically used for a visual effect. Readers of a poem can take pleasure in the visually repeated patterns. Eye rhymes may also aid memorization.

    As the English language and pronunciation continue to evolve, it is likely that words we currently consider 'perfect rhymes' will become eye rhymes in the future.

    Eye Rhyme - Key Takeaways

    • An eye rhyme is a type of rhyme in which two or more words are spelled almost identically, yet pronounced differently.

    • When a rhyme has different stressed vowel sounds and therefore different pronunciations, we refer to this as an eye rhyme.

    • Eye rhymes can also be referred to as visual rhymes or sight rhymes.

    • Historic rhymes are rhymes that were originally written to be perfect rhymes but, due to the evolving nature of the English language, are now eye rhymes.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Eye Rhyme

    What is an eye rhyme?

    An eye rhyme is a type of rhyme in which two or more words are spelt almost identically, yet pronounced differently.

    What is eye rhyme used for?

    Eye rhymes are used to add to the visual enjoyment of the poem, and/or as a mnemonic device to help with memorisation.

    What is an example of eye rhyme?

    An example of an eye rhyme is ‘lose’ (l-oo-z) and ‘rose’ (r-oh-z). They have identical endings but different vowel sounds.

    What is the rhyming word of eye?

    The word eye rhymes with many words such as 'sigh,' 'I,' 'why,' and 'lie.' Non of these are eye rhymes though. Eye rhyme (otherwise known as sight rhyme) is when two words are spelled almost identically but sound different such as 'trough,' 'plough,' and 'rough.'

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is an example of a perfect rhyme?

    In this example, what literary device is being used?:The girl looked scared to death, as she inhaled her very final breath

    8) What word would not create an eye rhyme? While I ran for cover, she found a new ______

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