7 Famous Limerick Examples That Will Inspire You to Write Your Own

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

There once was a reader of poetry

To whom limericks seemed like magicianry

So they turned to this sample

Of limerick examples

And learned a few things they’d not known, see?

Full disclosure: We wrote that one. And it’s true that the word poetry 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 examples of funny limericks, the exact origins of the form are lost in 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. They 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. 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.

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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…,” which first appeared in 1902. That limerick was written by a Princeton professor and appeared in the college’s humorous newspaper, the Princeton Tiger. 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.

Famous limerick examples

Limerick and orange gloves on purple backgroundrd.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.”

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Beetles on teal backgroundrd.com, Getty Images

Famed limerick writer Edward Lear wrote this 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.

Pencils on orange background containing limerickrd.com, Getty Images

British mathematician Leigh Mercer, who was a master of both wordplay and numbers, set this limerick out 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.

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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.

Folded shirt on green background with limerickrd.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), and 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.

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Happy grandmother and her granddaughter sitting on the floor with a bookWestend61/Getty Images

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