“The most difficult thing to do with writing a song is finding a phrase that you haven’t heard before.”

—Ed Sheeran


With more new songs being written than ever before, songwriters are finding it much harder to sound original and craft rhymes and phrases that have not already been used.

So how can you set about finding unique rhymes and avoiding worn-out clichés?

Surprising Rhyming is a new kind of rhyming dictionary that aims to address this growing problem. The book was created to make it easier for writers to come up with rhymes that people may not have heard before.

Built on the findings of an in-depth study of the kind of ingenious rhymes used by some of the world’s greatest songwriters and lyricists, Surprising Rhyming offers an astonishing array of over 150,000 rhyming solutions for some 1,400 different rhyme sounds. These rhyme options are much broader than those found in traditional rhyming dictionaries which tend to stick to ‘perfect’ or ‘true’ rhymes (where the stressed vowels and any consonants are always identical).

Using too many perfect rhymes can sometimes make a lyric sound tedious and predictable—and prone to clichés. And many established songwriters believe rhymes that are too exact can limit the expression of true emotion. To avoid this, Surprising Rhyming focuses instead on off-the-wall false-rhymes, half-rhymes, slant-rhymes and near-rhymes that are less predictable than ‘pure’ rhymes—and are therefore more likely to surprise an audience.

The book also includes many new words that have been added to standard dictionaries in recent years.

The thousands of ‘surprising’ rhymes crammed into Surprising Rhyming’s 624 pages are based on analyses of the unconventional ‘imperfect’ rhymes that have been used by influential songwriters and lyricists such as: Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Sara Bareilles, James Bay, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Sia Furler, Hozier, Jay-Z, Billy Joel, Carole King, Michael Kiwanuka, John Lennon, Lorde, John Mayer, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Bonnie McKee, Randy Newman, Dolly Parton, Christina Perri, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Taylor Swift, Cat Stevens, Bernie Taupin, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Wonder … and many more.

The ‘surprising’ rhymes listed in the book are typically formed by words with similar but not identical sounds (such as rain/blame or day/late) rather than the pure rhymes found in traditional dictionaries (like rain/pain or day/stay). In most cases, an expressive and unexpected rhyme is formed by the vowel segments being different while the consonants are identical, or vice versa.

Surprising Rhyming is an alternative rhyming dictionary that encourages writers to be more adventurous in their approach to rhyming,” explains the book’s creator and editor, Brian Oliver, author of the five-star rated book How [Not] to Write a Hit Song! 101 Common Mistakes to Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success.

He says: “Many of the cleverest perfect rhymes have been used so many times over the years that they’ve now become clichés and writers are struggling to find rhymes or phrases that haven’t been heard before. This book provides a rich collection of thousands of alternative rhymes in addition to many of the regular rhymes that appear in traditional rhyming dictionaries.”

The concept of the book was inspired by a remark made by Stephen Sondheim, the legendary Broadway composer and lyricist. In a PBS News Hour interview, Sondheim described how people’s ears have come to expect certain rhymes and suggested that writers should try to fool their audience by creating rhymes that will take listeners by surprise.

Across its 624 pages, Surprising Rhyming is laid out clearly to make it quick and easy to find the perfect word to achieve a memorable rhyme. There are separate sections for one-, two-, three- and four-syllable rhymes, along with many useful tips on rhyming.

Surprising Rhyming – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and also across Europe.

Find out more about the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK).


“It gives you a thrill to rhyme something and think,  ‘Well, that’s never been rhymed before’…”

—Bob Dylan

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