The word sonnet is Italian for “little song”. Sonnets usually focus on one key idea and are often reflective of emotions.

The sonnet is a 14-line lyrical poem with a strict rhyme scheme.

The rhyme scheme differs depending on the variety of sonnet.

The two main types are: the Elizabethan (or “Shakespearean”) sonnet and the Italian ( or “Petrarchan”) sonnet.

Italian Sonnet

The Italian sonnet features a longer thematic unit called an octave (8 lines of verse) followed by a unit of verse called a sestet (6 lines of verse). The break between the octave and sestet is usually the turning point in the poem. The first eight lines set the scene while the final six lines make a comment or observation about it.

The pattern of rhyme for an Italian sonnet is: abbaabba *cde cde.

Sometimes the sestet rhyme pattern is: cdcdcd

Elizabethan Sonnet

The Elizabethan sonnet features thematic units called quatrains (each quatrain is comprised of 4 lines of verse). There are three quatrains in each sonnet, and each line has an alternating rhyme.  The sonnet concludes with a rhyming couplet; in other words, the final word in the second last line and the final line of the poem rhyme. The last two lines often make some comment about the previous

12 lines.

The pattern of rhyme for an Elizabethan sonnet is:

abab cdcd efef gg

Cite this article as: William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team), "Poetic Sonnet: Italian Sonnet & Elizabethan Sonnet," in SchoolWorkHelper, 2019,

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