How to Write a Sonnet

This page talks about how to write a sonnet and offers some poem starters for writing your own. This is just one of many pages on this website about poetry types and techniques. At the bottom of this page, you'll find links to other CWN poetry resources.

What's a sonnet?

Sonnets are a kind of rhymed poem written in iambic pentameter. That's a rhythm that sounds like this: bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH.

An iamb is a rhythmic unit that includes an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. It has the rhythm bah-BAH, as in the words "about," or "predict," or "parade." Iambic pentameter is a line of poetry consisting of five iambs. Here are two sentences in iambic pentameter:

  • The book explained another way to write.

  • I think I'll take a walk around the block.

Hear it? bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH.

There are different kinds of sonnets, but I'm going to talk about the Shakespearian sonnet, also called the English sonnet. The Shakespearian sonnet has fourteen lines in iambic pentameter that are divided into three groups of four lines and one group of two lines. The rhyme scheme looks like this: abab cdcd efef gg. I'll explain.

When a rhyme scheme is written in this way, each of the letters stands for one line. An "a" line rhymes with another "a" line, a "d" line rhymes with another "d" line, etc. So in a Shakespearian sonnet, the first line (a) rhymes with the third line (also called "a"). The second line (b) rhymes with the fourth line (also called "b"). The final two lines of the poem (gg) rhyme with each other.

Here's an example of a sonnet by Shakespeare written in this form. I'll mark each end rhyme with a letter:

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck, (a)
And yet methinks I have astronomy, (b)
But not to tell of good, or evil luck, (a)
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality,(b)
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell; (c)
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind, (d)
Or say with princes if it shall go well (c)
By oft predict that I in heaven find. (d)
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive, (e)
And constant stars in them I read such art (f)
As truth and beauty shall together thrive (e)
If from thy self, to store thou wouldst convert: (f)
Or else of thee this I prognosticate, (g)
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date. (g)

You may notice that some of the rhymes are not exact. For example, "art" and "convert" have the same final sound, but the vowel sounds ("a" in art and "e" in convert) are different. This is an example of what is called off-rhyme, or slant-rhyme. You can read more about different kinds of rhymes here.


How to write a sonnet - poetry prompts

Now that you know how to write a sonnet, ready to try one of your own? Below are some six sentences in iambic pentameter. If you want, use them as starting points for your own poetry. For example, you could use one as the first line of a sonnet. You might even find a way to combine several of them in the same poem.

  1. The night was icy but I didn't mind.

  2. Your fingerprints were all around the room.

  3. My father never tells me what he thinks.

  4. There's something hiding underneath my bed.

  5. You changed your name but couldn't change your face.

  6. I couldn't think of anything to say.

How to write a sonnet - keep writing

Choose one of the links below.

Looking for more poetry ideas for your sonnet? Click here.

Want to learn to write more types of poems? Click here.

Interested in a complete list of CWN poetry pages? Click here.

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