[ lim-er-ik ]
/ ˈlɪm ər ɪk /
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a kind of humorous verse of five lines, in which the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines, which are shorter, form a rhymed couplet.
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Origin of limerick

1895–1900; after Limerick; allegedly from social gatherings where the group sang “Will you come up to Limerick?” after each set of verses, extemporized in turn by the members of the party

Other definitions for limerick (2 of 2)

[ lim-er-ik ]
/ ˈlɪm ər ɪk /

a county in N Munster, in the SW Republic of Ireland. 037 sq. mi. (2,686 sq. km).
its county seat: a seaport at the head of the Shannon estuary.
Angling. a fishhook having a sharp bend below the barb.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is a limerick?

A limerick is a five-line poem that is often humorous.

Limericks use the rhyme scheme AABBA, meaning that the first two lines rhyme with each other, and then the next (usually shorter) two lines rhyme with each other, and the last line rhymes with the first two lines. For example:

A limerick has five lines, not nine.
Start by rhyming two lines real fine.
Then rhyme another two.
It’s pretty easy to do.
Just don’t forget the punch line.

The limerick is a popular form of poetry that’s generally done just for fun, as opposed to being composed for high artistic value. Many children’s nursery rhymes are formatted as limericks. Limericks are also known for being used as a way to tell very raunchy jokes.

Limericks in poetry

The first known uses of the word limerick referring to the poem come from the late 1800s. The name is said to have originated from a kind of party game in which people took turns making up a set of nonsense verses, after which everyone would sing the same refrain, “Will you come up to Limerick?” (Limerick here refers to the county of Limerick in Ireland.)

People were writing and reciting limericks before they were called limericks—at least since the 1700s. The AABBA rhyme scheme that is almost always used today was popularized by poet Edward Lear in his 1846 collection A Book of Nonsense. In most limericks, the third and fourth lines are a rhyming couplet (a two-line rhyming poem whose two lines are usually the same length). These lines are often shorter than the first, second, and fifth lines. (In technical terms, they should have two metrical feet in contrast to the other three lines, which should have three metrical feet.) Here’s a classic example of a limerick that uses this structure:

There once was a man from Nantucket (A)
Who kept all his cash in a bucket. (A)
But his daughter, named Nan, (B)
Ran away with a man (B)
And as for the bucket, Nantucket. (A)

Get it? Nantucket in the final line is a pun meant to be interpreted as Nan took it. It’s common in many limericks for the final rhyme to end with the same word as the first line.

Limericks’ humor usually comes from puns and other kinds of wordplay, or just plain silliness. (Of course, a lot of people use them as an opportunity to make dirty jokes.) Limericks usually follow the traditional pattern, which makes them easy to recite. But they’re usually composed just for fun, and so the form doesn’t need to be perfect. Still, the last line is almost always the punch line.

Did you know ... ?

Many nursery rhymes are actually limericks, or at least very similar in form. For example:

Hickory, dickory, dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one,
And down he run
Hickory, dickory, dock!

What are real-life examples of limerick?

Limericks are most commonly used as a fun way to tell a silly joke, especially one based on wordplay.


What other words are related to limerick?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following choices is the traditional rhyme scheme for a limerick


How to use limerick in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for limerick (1 of 2)

/ (ˈlɪmərɪk) /

a form of comic verse consisting of five anapaestic lines of which the first, second, and fifth have three metrical feet and rhyme together and the third and fourth have two metrical feet and rhyme together

Word Origin for limerick

C19: allegedly from will you come up to Limerick?, a refrain sung between nonsense verses at a party

British Dictionary definitions for limerick (2 of 2)

/ (ˈlɪmərɪk) /

a county of SW Republic of Ireland, in N Munster province: consists chiefly of an undulating plain with rich pasture and mountains in the south. County town: Limerick. Pop: 175 304 (2002). Area: 2686 sq km (1037 sq miles)
a port in SW Republic of Ireland, county town of Limerick, at the head of the Shannon estuary. Pop: 86 998 (2002)
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 limerick


A form of humorous five-line verse, such as:

There once was a young man from Kew
Who found a dead mouse in his stew.
Said the waiter, “Don't shout
Or wave it about,
Or the rest will be wanting one too!”
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.