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​​In a nutshell

Limericks are a type of short form poetry. They follow a strict rhyme scheme, are often jaunty and humorous and sometimes even rude. They also have a regular rhythm. In this summary, you will learn how to identify limericks.

History of the limerick

Limericks originated in England in the early 18th century and they were later popularised by the 19th century poet Edward Lear. The limerick developed as a form of folk poetry, and as such it was often used in rude or transgressive ways. In fitting with its jaunty cadence, the limerick is often used as a way of delivering a witty or humorous story, thought, idea or message.

Where the name of the limerick form comes from is uncertain. Some sources think it derives from the city or county of Limerick in Ireland, while others think it comes from an old parlour game about nonsense verse which used the refrain 'Will you come up to Limerick?'.

Rules of the limerick

The limerick follows a certain set of rules which makes it very easily recognisable as a form of poetry. They are as follows:

  • Limericks follow an AABBA rhyme scheme.
  • The third and fourth lines are shorter than the first, second, and fifth.
  • Limericks are anapaestic.
  • Lines one, two, and five should have three anapaests (but can sometimes go over or under by one syllable).
  • Lines three and four should have two anapaests (but can sometimes go over or under by one syllable).


God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory,
But at present the other side’s winning.

(Limerick by Oliver Wendell Holmes)


Limericks are known for being humorous. While this humour often takes the form of smut or innuendo, it can also be used to demonstrate wit on the part of the poet.

Example 1

The following limerick was written by Leigh Mercer, a mathematician, and it demonstrates a clever way of stating an equation:

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Example 2

The anonymously written limerick below shows how the form can be experimented with to exhibit humour. The last line contains too many syllables, and therefore breaks the conventions of limericks, which is what the poem is about:

There was a young bard of Japan
Whose limericks never would scan;
When they said it was so,
He replied: 'Yes, I know,
But I make a rule of always trying to get just as many words into the last line as I possibly can.'

Want to find out more? Check out these other lessons!

Features of poetry

Poetic devices

Rhythm of poetry: beats and metre

Identifying form in poetry

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


  • Question: Are limericks funny?

    Answer: Yes, limericks are known for being humorous. While this humour often takes the form of smut or innuendo, it can also be used to demonstrate wit on the part of the poet.

  • Question: What is the rhyme scheme of a limerick?

    Answer: Limericks follow an AABBA rhyme scheme.

  • Question: Is a limerick a short poem?

    Answer: Yes, the limerick is a type of short form poetry.



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