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Sonnets in the IB English Exam

Updated: May 24, 2023

The sonnet is a popular form of poetry that has been used for centuries by some of the most famous poets in the world. It is a 14-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme and meter, typically written in iambic pentameter. The form originated in Italy in the 13th century and was later popularized in England by poets like William Shakespeare, who wrote 154 sonnets. Sonnets are a significant part of the IB English exam, and understanding them is essential to success on the exam.


A girl researching sonnets for her IB English exam.

The two most common types of sonnets are the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet and the English (Shakespearean) sonnet. The Italian sonnet is divided into two sections, an octave and a sestet, and follows the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDE CDE. The English sonnet, on the other hand, is divided into three quatrains and a final couplet, and follows the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.


When analyzing a sonnet for the IB English exam, you should focus on the themes, the tone, the use of imagery and metaphor, and the rhyme and meter. You should also be familiar with the different types of sonnets and their specific rhyme schemes and meters. It's essential to understand the historical context of the sonnet and the poet who wrote it, as well as the conventions and traditions of the sonnet form.


Here are ten famous sonnet examples, with brief explanations:

1. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: This sonnet is one of Shakespeare's most famous, and it compares the speaker's beloved to a summer's day.

2. Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare: This sonnet expresses the speaker's feelings of despair and frustration and the relief he finds in his love.

3. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare: This sonnet pokes fun at the traditional love sonnets of the time, and it praises the speaker's mistress for her natural beauty.

4. How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: This sonnet explores the speaker's deep love for her beloved, and it is considered one of the best love sonnets of all time.

5. Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: This sonnet is a romantic and melancholic tribute to the speaker's late beloved, Annabel Lee.

6. Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare: This sonnet reflects on the speaker's old age and the inevitability of death.

7. Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley: This sonnet describes a ruined statue in the desert, and it reflects on the transience of power and wealth.

8. When You Are Old by W.B. Yeats: This sonnet imagines the speaker's beloved growing old, and it reflects on the impermanence of beauty and youth.

9. Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare: This sonnet is one of Shakespeare's most famous, and it expresses the speaker's belief in the power of love to endure.

10. If Thou Must Love Me by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: This sonnet is a plea from the speaker to her beloved to love her for who she is, rather than for her beauty or wealth.


In conclusion, sonnets are a crucial part of the IB English exam, and understanding how to analyze and interpret them is essential to success on the exam. By studying these famous sonnets, familiarizing yourself with the conventions and traditions of the sonnet form, and practicing your analysis skills, you can be well-prepared for the exam and achieve your exam.


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