Masculine vs. Feminine Rhyme: What Is the Difference?

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Here’s the difference between a masculine and a feminine rhyme:

A masculine rhyme occurs when a single syllable at the end of the word, which is stressed, rhymes.

A feminine rhyme matches two or more syllables, with the last syllable being unstressed.

If you want to learn all about the differences between masculine and feminine rhymes, then this article is for you.

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Masculine vs. Feminine Rhyme: What Is the Difference?

What Is the Difference Between a Masculine and a Feminine Rhyme?

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DefinitionIt’s a monosyllabic or single-syllable rhyme that’s only found in the stressed last syllables.It’s a rhyme that involves more than one syllable.
How it’s formedRhyme occurs between the stressed ending syllables of two lines Rhyme occurs in both stressed and unstressed syllables with their particular counterparts
ScopeDoes the rhyme occur at the final stressed syllable only?Do both stressed and unstressed syllables rhyme?
Nature/SpecificityMono-syllabic or involves only one syllableMulti-syllabic or involves more than one syllable

While we don’t usually think of rhymes as gendered, there is such a thing as masculine and feminine rhyme. 

They utilize different patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, offer very different tones from each other, and have an effect on the overall atmosphere of the poem.

It should be noted that these terms do not indicate the genders of the words used, though gendered words are rather common in Romanic languages. 

English, ultimately being a Germanic language despite its storied history with the French language, has very few gendered words to begin with (the primary example being “blonde” and “blond”).

The prevailing theory behind the origin of these terms is that they were likely only gendered to emphasize that they stand as opposites since one deals in a stressed single rhyme and the other consists of a double rhyme ending in an unstressed syllable.

Both masculine and feminine rhymes tend to be definite rhymes, in which the ending sounds of the words match up perfectly. 

Slant rhymes, in which only the vowel sounds actually match, are more likely to be masculine than feminine if they’re used at all.

Today we’ll be going into detail on what effects these different types of rhyme have on a poem’s rhyme scheme and tone.

What Are Masculine Rhymes?

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Masculine rhymes occur when a single syllable at the end of the word, which is stressed, rhymes. 

Examples of masculine rhyme include:

  • Lean & Green
  • Reuse & Abuse
  • Produce & Reduce
  • Betray & Portray
  • Persist & Resist

Masculine rhymes lend a voice of definitive authority to a rhyme. 

They are often used in slogans and jingles because they tend to stick out and are naturally memorable.

They also appear in “heroic couplets.”

This is a unique pattern of two rhymed lines with iambic pentameter. 

Heroic couplets are often utilized in long narrative poems, such as epics, for the natural impact they produce.

The strong emphasis on the final syllable gives an immediate impact that isn’t matched the same way in feminine rhyme. 

A masculine rhyme feels complete and makes a clean transition for the next line.

Masculine rhymes often result in iambic feet, in which a stressed syllable follows an unstressed syllable. 

This meter is relatively common in English, and as a result, it can have an air of familiarity or even friendliness.

The lines below, excerpted from William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29” (sometimes referred to by its initial line instead), are an excellent example of masculine rhyme in action:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate

All of the rhymes in this section of the poem are masculine, consisting of a single stressed syllable. 

This makes the poem feel fast and slightly turbulent as it bounces along from line to line. 

Shakespeare’s consistent use of iambic meter led to many of his poems having masculine rhyme as an inherent feature.

The lines feel loud and heavy to the ears, partially as a result of the iambs but especially due to the stressed rhymes.

Single-syllable words with masculine rhyme tend to be especially potent.

Masculine rhymes tend to strike like a punch. They’re definitive and absolute, lending themselves well to a confident tone.

What Are Feminine Rhymes?

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Feminine rhymes are far less common than masculine rhymes, due in part to the rarity of the words that qualify for them. 

A feminine rhyme matches two or more syllables, with the last syllable being unstressed. 

Examples of feminine rhyme include:

  • Measure & Leisure
  • Power & Hour
  • Rumor & Humor
  • Duty & Beauty
  • Incarnation & Reinstation

Feminine rhymes tend to have a softer aesthetic than masculine rhymes and can be used to give poetry a sense of beauty and refinement. 

Their rarity makes them stand out in a wholly different way than their masculine counterparts.

As a general rule of thumb, feminine rhyme and the soft rhythm it produces tend to work well in poems that have an indifferent tone. 

The lack of stress on the last syllable allows feminine rhyme to flow seamlessly from line to line, creating a feeling of continuity within the poem.

Feminine rhymes often result in dactylic or trochaic feet.

Both are combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables, with the emphasis being at the end of the foot.

One of the best examples of feminine rhyme in action was penned by Ambrose Pierce in the poem “The Day of Wrath / Dies Iræ.” 

Below is an excerpt.

Thief and harlot, when repenting,

Thou forgavest—complimenting

Me with sign of like relenting.

If too bold is my petition

I’ll receive with due submission

My dismissal—from perdition.

When thy sheep thou hast selected

From the goats, may I, respected,

Stand amongst them undetected.

When offenders are indited,

And with trial-flames ignited,

Elsewhere I’ll attend if cited.

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Note that every single one of these stanzas is an example of feminine rhyme. 

This excerpt is from the middle of the poem, but it’s worth noting that the entire poem is similar in terms of rhyme scheme to what’s seen above.

Pierce’s usage of feminine double rhymes, and particularly in fully rhymed tercets, gives the entire poem a refreshing and consistent rhythm that’s difficult to match. 

It’s such a calculated decision that a trained eye might even say that he’s flexing on his competitors with a poem written in this style due to the difficulty of keeping up this rhyme scheme while still saying something meaningful.

Feminine rhymes have a subtle sense of deflation built into them. 

The preceding stressed syllables are muted or washed out by the ending, creating an effect that is both musical and silencing.