7 Famous Limerick Examples – Poems to Spark Your Creativity

There once was a limerick example, but this is just the preamble. Read on for more famous poem verse to explore, and we'll do our best not to ramble.

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The word poetry typically sparks thoughts of love poems and doesn’t necessarily bring fun and laughter to mind. The exception to the rule? Limericks, a form of humorous poetry that’s been making us laugh for hundreds of years. Although there are many funny limericks, the exact origins of the form have been lost to time, although they may date back to medieval Ireland and possibly got their name from the Irish city or county of Limerick.

However, limericks as we know them today first appeared in the 18th century. These funny short poems were popularized in England by the writer Edward Lear in his first Book of Nonsense, published in 1846. In total, Lear wrote and published 212 limericks, and he is still one of the best-known writers of limericks, even now. Many of his nonsense poems make great limericks for kids, but adults enjoy them too.

What is a limerick, anyway?

Limericks follow a strict structure: five lines, in which the first, second and fifth lines are longer and rhyme, while the third and fourth lines are shorter and share a separate rhyme (you may see this rhyme structure referred to as “AABBA”). There is often unusual stress in recitation, with emphasis placed on every other word starting with the second one. The humor usually comes in the final line, with a sudden reversal or twist, wordplay or twisted rhyme. When Lear was writing, the last line was often the same as the first apart from this twist, but this is no longer the popular form.

Common limerick formats

Limericks follow repeated patterns. They often open with lines such as, “There once was a (someone) from (somewhere) …” or “There was a (someone) who (something) …” One of the most famous opening lines is: “There once was a man from Nantucket …” That limerick was written by a Princeton professor and appeared in the college’s humorous newspaper, the Princeton Tiger, in 1902. Here it is in its entirety:

There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Frequently, limerick examples with this opening line are extremely vulgar, to the point that “There once was a man from Nantucket” has become a kind of cultural shorthand. However, there are many other limerick examples with a similar format without that sort of subtext.

How to write a limerick

Interested in putting pen to paper and creating your own limerick? Follow these steps.

Step 1: Pick a theme for your limerick, and make sure it will help you tell a funny story.

Step 2: Remember to follow the AABBA structure, meaning you’ll need five lines of copy.

Step 3: Keep the syllable patterns in mind when writing. For limericks, the first, second and fifth lines typically have eight or nine syllables; lines three and four typically have five or six syllables.

Step 4: Pick an opening line that will help you set up a story, and make sure the last word rhymes with other words. If you’re stuck, you can start with the classic “There once was a man from Nantucket” line and go from there.

Step 5: Give that last line a twist!

If you still need some help writing limericks, don’t fret—we have some famous limerick examples below for inspiration.

Limerick poem examples

Limerick on a purple background with orange mittensRD.com, Getty Images

The writer Rudyard Kipling, famous for works such as The Jungle Book, penned this tale of a young French-Canadian boy:

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is—
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

Limerick on a teal background with beetlesRD.com, Getty Images

Famed limerick writer Edward Lear wrote this limerick example (and oddly enough, this one is also set in Quebec):

There was an Old Man of Quebec,
A beetle ran over his neck.
But he cried, “With a needle,
I’ll slay you, O beetle!”
That angry Old Man of Quebec.

But Lear also wrote limericks set closer to home, like this one about Ryde, on the Isle of Wight in the U.K.:

There was a Young Lady of Ryde,
Whose shoe-strings were seldom untied.
She purchased some clogs,
And some small spotted dogs,
And frequently walked about Ryde.

Limerick on an orange background with pencilsRD.com, Getty Images

British mathematician Leigh Mercer, who was a master of both wordplay and numbers, crafted this famous poem as an equation. We’ve spared you the math, but here’s the limerick example:

A dozen, a gross and a score,
Plus three times the square root of four.
Divided by seven,
Plus five times eleven,
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

For Gilbert and Sullivan fans, this one is by W.S. Gilbert himself, with the British past-tense pronunciation of ate—”et.”

There was a professor named Chesterton,
Who went for a walk with his best shirt on.
Being hungry, he et it,
But lived to regret it,
And ruined for life his digestion.

Limerick on a green background with a polo shirtRD.com, Getty Images

Finally, here’s one by the incomparable Mark Twain. Read it carefully!

A man hired by John Smith and Co.,
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw,
Dumping dirt by the door,
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do.

With Twain being the prankster that he was, this one requires a bit of head-scratching. You have to read the abbreviation (i.e., Co. = company), then add that ending to each abbreviation. So it becomes: “Company,” “thump any” and “dump any.” Extremely tricky! But that’s limericks for you: funny, punny and filled with dubious rhymes.

Chloë Nannestad
Chloë Nannestad is a lifestyle writer covering crafts, holidays, beauty and amazing products for RD.com. When she's not scouring the internet or reading product reviews, she's planning her next backpacking trip and thinking about getting a dog.