[ hahy-koo ]
/ ˈhaɪ ku /
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noun, plural hai·ku for 2.
a major form of Japanese verse, written in 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, and employing highly evocative allusions and comparisons, often on the subject of nature or one of the seasons.
a poem written in this form.
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Origin of haiku

1895–1900; <Japanese, equivalent to hai(kai) haikai + ku stanza; see hokku
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does haiku mean?

Haiku is a traditional style of Japanese poetry in which 17 syllables are written in three lines, with the first line containing five syllables, the second line containing seven, and the third line containing five.

The word haiku is also commonly used to refer to a poem written in this way. The plural is haiku, though it’s common to see people casually refer to haikus.

For example:

Haiku are poems. (five syllables)
Haiku always have three lines (seven syllables)
They often don’t rhyme. (five syllables)

Traditional Japanese haiku often use natural subjects or imagery. This often involves using specific words that represent the seasons.

However, for English speakers, haiku has become a popular style of poetry that can be about anything. Many people use haiku as a form for creating funny, entertaining, or absurd poems, using the 5-7-5 syllable format as a kind of challenge or guiding principle.

Why is haiku important?

The form of poetry we call haiku was developed in the 1600s, but it wasn’t called haiku until later. The earliest records of the word haiku in English come from the 1890s. In Japanese, hai means “amusement” and ku means “verse.”

The format was first used in the opening lines of much longer oral poems known as renga. It was developed in the 1600s by Matsuo Basho, who is considered a master of haiku. Many Japanese poets used his poems as a standard for haiku poetry in the following centuries. By the 1800s, haiku had become a separate form of poetry.

Most Japanese haiku can’t keep the traditional 5-7-5 structure when translated into English, such as this translation of a haiku by Basho:

The old pond!
A frog jumps in—
the sound of water

In fact, many haiku do not follow the 5-7-5 structure even in written Japanese because the Japanese language doesn’t count syllables the same way English does. Still, most English speakers follow the 5-7-5 structure. This structure is often thought to add to the beauty, humor, or silliness of the poem.

Did you know ... ?

Japanese haiku usually have a kigo, a word or phrase that is directly connected to a season in Japanese culture. Over the years, Japanese translators have compiled lists of hundreds of kigo used in haiku and their traditional meanings in Japanese culture.

What are real-life examples of haiku?

Haiku is rooted in Japanese culture but has become popular in many cultures. Traditional Japanese haiku are often about nature, but haiku can be about any topic.


What other words are related to haiku?

Quiz yourself!

Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry that often uses imagery based on:

A. outer space
B. nature and the seasons
C. religion
D. Japanese warriors

How to use haiku in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for haiku



/ (ˈhaɪkuː) /

noun plural -ku
an epigrammatic Japanese verse form in 17 syllables

Word Origin for haiku

from Japanese, from hai amusement + ku verse
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for haiku

[ (heye-kooh) ]

A form of Japanese poetry. A haiku expresses a single feeling or impression and contains three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.