What Is a Couplet?

Couplet comes from the French word referring to two pieces of iron soldered or hinged together. It is two successive lines of poetry that typically rhyme and have the same meter. The second line in the couplet functions to “answer” or complete the thought expressed by the couplet as a whole. The most famous example of couplets is at the end of a sonnet, where the couplet amplifies or puts a new spin on the theme of the sonnet as a whole. An entire poem may be composed of couplets, or a couplet may be a poem all by itself.

How Do You Identify a Couplet in Writing?

While there are many types of couplet in world literature, the two main types in the English language are open (run-on) or closed (formal).

  • Closed couplets can stand alone, either as an entire poem or as an independent unit of thought that amplifies the meaning of the poem. A heroic couplet is a closed couplet written in iambic pentameter. This type of couplet was first used extensively by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century and later popularized by Alexander Pope.
  • Open couplets do not have a meaning all by themselves and must be read in the context of the poem as a whole. “Run on” couplets may also use enjambment, where the meaning of the first line is enhanced by the way the thought continues on into the second line.

Examples of Couplets

Couplet Example 1. “True wit is nature to advantage dress’d;/What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.” — Alexander Pope

Couplet Example 2. “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” — the end of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Couplet Example 3. An entire poem as a couplet, expressed by an elementary school girl named Elizabeth: “I went swimming in the pool,/But it was too cool.”

Couplet Example 4. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,/How I wonder what you are.” Many nursery rhymes take the form of couplets.

Couplet Example 5. “I do not like green eggs and ham,/I do not like them, Sam I am.” The same is true for many Dr. Suess books.

Couplet Example 6. “The best part of waking up,/Is Folgers in your cup.” An advertising jingle uses a couplet as a mnemotic device.


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