What is the difference in meaning between pattern and rhythm?

It seems to me that the former is more American-English and the latter more British-English. Are these more or less synonyms or are there some subtile differences?

It seems to me that pattern is more common than rhythm.

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    What information were you looking for beyond what you can find in any good dictionary? Jun 26, 2011 at 9:34
  • thanks for the answers. I was looking actually not only looking for the difference in meaning but as well in usage in the two realms of english language. As it seems to me especially in scientific literature, that the term rhythm is seldomly used, but the term pattern is very good established...
    – smiyazaki
    Jun 27, 2011 at 10:34
  • 'rhythm' is a pattern that is time-based.
    – Mitch
    Feb 26, 2014 at 15:57

3 Answers 3


The words have different but related meanings. A pattern is a general term for anything that has repetition or other regularity, so it can be seen, heard or otherwise perceived. People often talk about patterns on a dress, or patterns in behavior.

A rhythm is a pattern in time, most commonly used to describe music or speech. Another common use of rhythm is when one is said to be "in a rhythm." This means a person is doing something at a sustainable and comfortable pace, almost as if they were following the beat of music.

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    There is some confusion injected into the issue as well because rhythm has been metaphorically extended into the critical vocabulary around static visual arts (painting, sculpture, photography, architectural design, etc.). Too much of that sort of thing and the metaphor gets lost, so we wind up with semantic drift.
    – bye
    Jun 26, 2011 at 0:22
  • @Stan Rogers - isn't that the difference between feeling a rhythm and balderdash :)
    – user9682
    Jun 26, 2011 at 0:30
  • thanks for the differenciation. I still go with @Stan Rogers that there is not so much a difference any more and it is at the end only a question of usage and convention. I wondered if there is something in common knowledge about this difference in usage, etymology etc., which I as a non specialist and non native speaker don't know. I am questioning: why pattern is more used in the scientific literature than rhythm.. Also in the area of speech recognition etc. Maybe it is because we are to much visually oriented..
    – smiyazaki
    Jun 27, 2011 at 10:41

To me, a rhythm happens in time, whereas a pattern may happen over any dimension, usually space. In other words, a rhythm is a temporal pattern. :-)

But of course, we often employ these words metaphorically, so these nuances are lost.

  • +1 for "a rhythm is a temporal pattern". Best compare-contrast of the two terms I've ever seen or heard.
    – KeithS
    Jun 27, 2011 at 16:21

Rhythm has flow. Pattern can be mathematical or methodical without having rhythm.

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    This is a very confusing and poorly worded answer. Could you please explain how "rhythm... can be mathematical... without having rhythm".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 26, 2014 at 10:18

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