Half rhyme

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Half rhyme

Half rhyme: A form of rhyme in which words contain similar sounds but do not rhyme perfectly. Most half rhyme (also called approximate rhyme, imperfect rhyme, near rhyme, oblique rhyme, pararhyme, and slant rhyme) is the result of assonance, consonance, or a combination of the two. Half rhyme may be unintentional or intentional. Unintentional half rhyme results from the poet’s lack of rhyming skills; intentional half rhyme is usually the product of poetic license, liberties taken by the poet to create specific sound effects.

EXAMPLES: Rhyme / writhe, horse / hearse, summer / humble, and thin / slim. Emily Dickinson made frequent use of half rhyme; in the following passage from “In Winter in my Room” (c. 1860), Room / Worm / warm and pink / lank form half rhymes:

In Winter in my Room

I came upon a Worm

Pink lank and warm.

In Philip Larkin’s “Toads” (1954) life / off constitutes a half rhyme, whereas the pair work / pitchfork constitutes an eye rhyme as well as a half rhyme:

Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?

Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork

And drive the brute off?

Selena’s soft-rock ballad “I Could Fall in Love with You” (1996) alternates perfect rhymes (how / now) and half rhymes (e.g., feel / still); in “Bad Blood” (2015), Taylor Swift combines them, rhyming bad and blood in one line with mad and love, respectively, in another.