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What are the different types of sonnets?

The sonnet is a versatile form of poetry of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter. The first sonnets were written in Italian, but are now written in any language. Likewise, the sonnet was traditionally a love poem, but is now written on other topics. The sonnet first introduces an issue or problem and then resolves that issue. The most important element of the sonnet is the volta or turn from the exposition of the issue to its resolution. The various types of sonnets differ mainly in their division of sections and rhyming patterns.

English Sonnet

The English sonnet is also known as a Shakespearean sonnet after its most famous writer. The English sonnet is constructed of three quatrains of alternating rhyme ("abab cdcd efef"), followed by a single couplet. While Shakespeare often placed the sonnet's volta in the ninth line, the English sonnet is flexible about the volta's placement and the form doesn't require its placement in a specific line.

Italian Sonnet

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is the original and least flexible of the various types. An Italian sonnet consists of two sections. The first part is an octave, or eight lines, with an "abba abba" rhyming pattern. The second part is a sestet, or six lines. The rhyming pattern for the sestet is somewhat more flexible, although an Italian sonnet never ends with a couplet. The Italian ("cdc cdc") and Sicilian ("cdc dcd") are the two most popular rhyming patterns for the closing sestet. An Italian sonnet's volta is always in the ninth line.

Spenserian Sonnet

This sonnet consists of three Sicilian quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyming scheme ("abab bcbc cdcd ee") connects each of the quatrains so that they form one unit, although each quatrain introduces a specific thought. Edmund Spenser created this sonnet by experimenting with the rhyming and stanza pattern he used in "The Faerie Queene."

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About the Author

Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.