How to write a limerick: Some useful tips

by PaulGoodman67

This article gives a brief history of the limerick and the form it takes, then gives tips on how to write one, including how to get started and some tips.

A limerick is a traditional form of English nonsense poetry with roots that go all the way back to the early 18th century, although the form didn’t really become popular until the poet, Edward Lear began writing limericks in the 19th century.

A limerick is almost always humorous, usually absurd, and sometimes obscene. The strict format and simple rhyming scheme of limericks makes them relatively easy poems to write and they can be a fun to create for children as well as adults.

The limerick form

A limerick is usually 5 lines long and follows a rhyming scheme of aabba, which means that the first, second and fifth lines rhyme, as well as the third and fourth.

Here is an example of a limerick written by myself:

There was an old man from Belize

Who lived in a house made of cheese

When the days became long

The stink was so strong

His neighbors all took to the seas

Where to start

The best place to begin when writing a limerick is usually with the first line. Typically the first line introduces a person and a place, with the place name coming at the end of the line. The place name is very important as rhymes must be found for it and used at the ends of the second and fifth lines.

An example of a limerick first line:

There was a young lady from Ealing

(potential rhyming words: ceiling; feeling; reeling; peeling; healing etc.)


There was an old man from Calcutta

(potential rhyming words: butter; gutter; putter; mutter; jutter etc.)

More limerick tips

Sometimes the place name will be pronounced in a strange way, with the syllable that the poet wants to rhyme being stressed, even if that alters the usual pronunciation of the place name. Limerick writers also often call upon the names of exotic places too, in order to exploit a name’s rhyming potential.

In other cases, rather than a place, a person’s name will be used at the end of the first line, for example:

There was a young fellow named Steven


There was an old lady called Jane

It is also possible to write a non-traditional limerick that follows the standard form of a limerick, but doesn’t use a place name, or a person’s name at the end of the first line.

The first, second and fifth line of a limerick will generally have 8 syllables and the third and fourth line have 5, but this is not a strict rule.

In early limericks a version of the first line was repeated at the end to form the fifth line, but this is not usually done nowadays and a unique fifth line is almost always created by the writer.

Word play, twists of meaning, joke-style punch lines, and the inclusion of obscenities are often much prized by limerick writers.

Updated: 02/12/2013, PaulGoodman67
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