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Limerick Format

Puns, Punches, and Fun in a Small Package: Format of Limericks

Limericks are fun, five line poems, with specific rhythm patterns that are extremely easy to compose if you know the correct format of a limerick. In this article, we discuss the prevalent format of this fun poem to enable you to write your own verse.
Tulika Nair
Last Updated: Mar 29, 2018
"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

That was the very first limerick of the first compilation of limericks written by Edward Lear and published as the Book of Nonsense in the year 1846. This book of light verses in the English language had as many as 112 limericks for children. Though this is the first record of a limerick ever written and published, it is believed that this form of lyrical poetry can be traced back to the eighteenth century when chorus resembling modern-day limericks were sung by the Irish Brigade when they were on their way from France to Ireland. The format of a limerick that is popularly subscribed has pretty much remained the same over the years, but there are no hard and fast rules that need to be followed while writing limericks.

Format of a Limerick

In order to understand the format of a limerick, it is important to know what a limerick is and how it is differentiated from other types of poetry. Given below is a list of those characteristics that sets apart limericks from other forms of poetry.
  • The most disparate characteristic of a limerick is that it is a funny poem. Hilarity of the verse is what sets it apart from other forms of poetry.
  • Another characteristic feature that most limerick writers tend to use in their verses are puns and play of words.
  • Limericks have the notorious reputation of being bawdy and vulgar but there are some suitable limerick examples that can be used to explain the verse style to kids.
  • If you intend to write a limerick then do ensure that the last line surprises the unsuspecting reader with an unforeseen punch.
  • Limericks have only five lines and the poem depends on its rhythm patterns and syllable use to enhance its funniness. Limericks do not necessarily always have the same number of syllables because they are determined as limericks depending on their rhythm pattern.
  • In case you are following a traditional format, then you will notice that the most limericks that you come across will have a similar number of syllables. The first, second, and fifth verse lines will have eight, nine, or ten syllables depending on the subject matter or the names used in the limerick. The third and the fourth line will traditionally have only five syllables.
  • Generally, limericks have three stressed syllables in the first, second, and fifth line and two stressed syllables in the third and fourth line as compared to other types of poems.
  • The rhythm pattern and the meter of the verse are the other factors that differentiate a limerick from other poetic forms. The rhythm pattern is such that the first, second, and fifth line rhyme with each other and the third and fourth line rhyme with each other. The easiest way to understand this rhythm pattern is with the help of the oldest limerick that has been passed down verbally. It is one that was devised sometime in the 1740s. This famous limerick is one that we have all pretty much grown up reciting.

    Hickory, Dickory Dock a
    A mouse ran up the clock a
    The Clock struck One b
    The mouse fell down b
    Hickory Dickory Dock a
  • Its meter gives the limerick its unique characteristic sound. The meter in which a limerick is written is called the anapestic meter. In this form of meter, every line has a short-short-long syllable stress pattern.
These are the important things to keep in mind while writing a limerick in accordance with the existing and prevalent format of a limerick. You could also take a look at different examples to understand how to write it better. As mentioned earlier limericks are generally crude and vulgar, but there is a type of limerick called the poetic limerick that uses the style and literary devices used in this specific form of poetry to write about subject matter that could span across genres and cater to all types of audiences. Today limericks have become the first form of introduction to poetry for kids. As a professional looking for a way to introduce limericks and their format to kids in your class, you can use websites that allow you to create your own limericks with a menu of pre-fed lyrics that children can choose from and create poetry. You can also use limerick worksheets that are readily available online or can be easily created using colorful papers and designs to inspire the kids. After an introductory class on the format of a limerick, give them a collection of words and a few phrases to use. Allow them to then creatively come up with their own limericks which can be read out to the class. Limericks are a fun way to learn new things for kids and adults alike. They are also one of the easiest styles to master.