I am having to do a sonnet for a class poetry slam, and in reviewing what I have at the moment, realize this as one of my lines:

.../so briefly, in the multivalent chagrin, the gray of conformity, that which I myself struggle through.

A sonnet has alternating rhyming: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, and GG; they are in iambic pentameter and ten syllables long per line (five feet); clearly, this line here does not follow the rules. Many other lines in my sonnet disobey line length (the number of syllables) and iambic pentameter, but it still keeps the number of lines and rhyme scheme of a traditional sonnet.

However, in spite of the break of this rule, can it still be considered a sonnet?

There have been some breaks in rules especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, not only in the line number but in the nature of the meter and rhyming themself.

Given this, could I still present my sonnet as a sonnet?

  • 1
    As OED shows, there are different definitions of the word 'sonnet'. Other authorities have 'A sonnet is a one-stanza, 14-line poem, written in iambic pentameter', 'A sonnet is a poem generally structured in the form of 14 lines, usually iambic pentameter'. Where important (as seems the case here) it is up to the person setting the task to specify which definition is in play, and up to the person set the task to determine this information by asking the relevant authority. The overall answer is 'Yes and No', but doubtless the authority has their own ideas. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 10:32
  • 1
    There's no factual answer. If you feel your poem has a strong similarity to traditional sonnets, call it a sonnet. This similarity may be partly in the structure, theme/subject, style or intent, and not necessarily in the metre or rhyme. (Questions about sonnets probably belong on literature or writing Stack Exchange rather than here.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 10:45
  • @StuartF Oh, sorry, I did not bother to check if that one existed; I stuck with the general category of English and put it here. I will keep that in mind.
    – BigRigz
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


The OED defines “sonnet” thus:

2. A poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically written in iambic pentameter, and usually having a single theme.

Note the word “typically” – this allows for other meters.

Note the syllables mentioned in the 1575 quote.

1575 G. Gascoigne Posies (1907) 471 I can beste allowe to call those Sonets whiche are of fouretene lynes, every line conteyning tenne syllables.

a1771 T. Gray Observ. Eng. Metre in Wks. (1814) II. 21 Sonnets of Fourteen, on Five Rhymes. [Note] This, and the fourth kind are the true Sonnet of the Italians.

It gives two further meanings:

1. A song, tune, or ballad; (also) music. In later use sometimes with admixture of senses 2 or 3, referring to a poem set to music, or to a song having a poetic quality.

c1400 (▸?c1380) Cleanness (1920) l. 1516 Þer watz rynging, on ryȝt, of ryche metalles,..Clatering of covaclez þat kesten þo burdes, As sonet out of sau[t]eray songe als myry.

1922 Tel.-Herald (Dubuque, Iowa) 31 Mar. 6/6 It's better to perform a jig and sing a sonnet charming than wail out lamentations big and go about alarming.

And (note obsolete)

†3. Any short poem or piece of verse; (in early use) esp. a lyrical love poem. Obsolete.

1557 (title) Songes and sonettes, written by the..late Earle of Surrey, and other.

1871 Judy 1 Mar. 181/2 Pray learn, from this short sonnet, The lesson that Scotch costume teaches.

Thus a “sonnet” is rather vague.

Yours is probably a sonnet.

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