Difference Between English and Italian Sonnet

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between English and Italian Sonnet

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Let's start with a sonnet: what exactly is a sonnet? A sonnet is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language that originated in the poetry composed at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the Sicilian city of Palermo. However, the earliest sonnets no longer survived in the original Sicilian language and were translated into the Tuscan dialect.

To state the obvious, the word "sonnet" is derived from the Italian word "sonneto," which meant a little song. The sonnet was invented in the 13th century by the poet Giacomo da Lentini as a fourteen-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme and structure. By the time of the Renaissance, the meaning of the sonnet changed from a little song to a way of expressing romantic love. Simultaneously, sonnets were written in a variety of European languages, and a variety of forms were acceptable for sonnet writers.

But as people changed, so did the sonnet, and many variations have occurred since then; even the quatorzain limit—the poem of fourteen lines—was taken for granted, and the rhyme scheme and structure were newly adapted by the modern changing world. Today, many lectures are conducted on just classical Italian and English sonnets across the entire world. Such sonnets are used in subjects such as history and literature to explain how every parameter was used and structured by the writer since the 13th century and how, with each passing century, it evolved to the present.

The most well-known sonnet was the Italian one, since that is the state of origin, and it is followed by the English one since that is the most common language in the world. There are six types of sonnets, but we will only look at two of them in this article: English and Italian. We will be seeing how Italian and English sonnets differ, what makes them unique in their way, and how every parameter is wielded to make a great composer of a sonnet.

English Sonnet Vs. Italian Sonnet

As expected, the world has changed dramatically since the 13th century. Yet, studies are being conducted on various subjects and fields to discover and research what we have lost. Mainly, the use of words, their structure, their meaning, and the entire vocabulary of the world have drastically taken a hit. And that is crucially important for everyone to understand. Because we can only communicate our message to the future of our universe through words, the Point is, the use of vocabulary and words is minimised to limited speech, and the same has happened in the case of the sonnet.

The origin of first ever sonnet was in the 13th century, which was a Petrarchan sonnet or Italian sonnet, but just within two centuries, i.e., the 15th century, the English sonnet was formed and gained immense fame and an audience all over the world. Both Italian and English sonnets are still being written, and their studies are extensively conducted.

As stated previously, the management of words and their scheme changed; the same is also true of the difference between Italian and English sonnets. The Italian sonnet has an octet (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines), whereas the English sonnet has 3 quatrains (4 lines) and 1 couplet (2 lines). Although, if you could notice, there is one thing in common in both the sonnets, and that is that both are 14-line little songs. The most renowned English sonnet writer is none other than William Shakespeare, and just like that, there is also a well-known Italian sonnet writer named Francesco Petrarca, after whom the sonnet was named, i.e., the Petrarchan sonnet.

Another thing that both types of sonnets have in common is the use of iambic pentameter, which means mimicking the cadence of natural speech. Simply put, iambic pentameter is when a line of verse begins with one short syllable (an unstressed word) and ends with a long syllable (a stressed word). The terms are derived from the word "iamb," which means "two syllables together," with the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed. "Prepare," "embark," and so on are examples. The word "Penta" refers to the number of iambs in a line, which would be five.

As you can see, the wording parameter is just 50% of what a sonnet could be; there is more to a sonnet than this, such as a rhyme scheme, a consistent meter, a volta, a thematic shift, and the marks of tonality. We will be learning about the same in the below charts and paragraphs.

Difference Between English Sonnet and Italian Sonnet in Tabular Form

Parameters English Sonnet Italian Sonnet  
Origin The English sonnet came into being in the early 1500s. The Italian sonnet was originally written in the 1300s.
Composition The first English sonnet was a fine translation of the Italian sonnet. The first sonnet was written by Giacomo de Lentini.
Distribution Line The English sonnet is composed of 14 lines containing three quatrains and a couplet. The Italian sonnet, too, is composed of 14 lines containing an octet and a sestet.
Structure The first two quatrains explain the problem; the third quatrain and the couplet have the solution. The octet presents the problem, while the septet explains the solution.
Alternate sonnet The English sonnet is also known as the Shakespearean sonnet. The Italian sonnet is also known as the Petrarchan sonnet.
Volta The volta of an English sonnet can be found in the third quatrain. The volta in the Italian sonnet can be found in the ninth line.
Rhyme Scheme The rhyming scheme of the English sonnet goes like ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, also, ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. The rhyming scheme of the Italian sonnet goes like "ABBA ABBA CDE CDE," also, "ABBA ABBA CDC CDC."

What is English Sonnet? 

Whenever there is the mention of an English sonnet, most people's heads light up with only one, and that is William Shakespeare, as it is also known as a Shakespearean sonnet. Many people think that after the sonnet flourished in Italy for two centuries, Shakespeare was the one who brought the sonnet to England, but that is not the truth. The credit for the English sonnet goes to Sir Thomas Wyatt, who consistently translated Petrarch's sonnets, along with his compositions. And all such English sonnets reached England in the 1530s. Later came another analogy of sonnets, which was referred to as Tottel's Miscellany.

The English sonnet has a different rhyme scheme, which goes like this: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. Each letter represents a different rhyme in the last word of a line. This way, it is clear that the alternate lines rhyme with each other, and the last two lines rhyme with each other. Hence, to complete the rhyme scheme of an English sonnet in its fourteen lines, one will need seven sets of rhyming words. To be more precise and explain things more poetically, the English sonnet, consists of fourteen lines and is further split into three quatrains and a couplet, Surely, a quatrain is a stanza with four lines, and a couplet is a set of two rhyming lines of verse that are right next to each other.

As specified in the above paragraphs, each type of sonnet has an iambic pentameter, which specifies the syllable in the line. To put it in simple words, each line should strictly have ten syllables that should alternate between being stressed and unstressed. Sir William Shakespeare applied all his knowledge and mindfully made use of each parameter to put out the best of the sonnets. He has volumes of self-written sonnets that are well-known today.

The first quatrain of the English sonnet explains the problem, followed by the second quatrain, which explains the specifics or details of the problem, and the third quatrain most probably contains the solution. Finally, the rhyming couplet gives the morale or concludes the sonnet.

What is an Italian Sonnet?

The Italian sonnet is the original sonnet, in the sense that the concept of sonnet originated in Italy, in Sicily. Giacomo da Lentini, the leader of the Sicilian School, is thought to have written the sonnet. Shakespeare is remembered for the English sonnet, and some of his sonnets are named after him; similarly, in the Italian sonnet, the writer Francesco Petrarca is well known for all his romantic little songs; many of his sonnets are named Petrarchan Sonnet. The sonnet was invented in the early 1300s and was thought to be related to the Arabic poetry "Qasida." Lentini did not completely invent it.

The rhyme scheme for the Italian sonnet consists of a pair of quatrains, followed by a pair of tercets, for example, "ABAB ABAB CDCDCD." As you can see, the rhyme scheme is symmetrical, and there is a midway break during which the sonnet's sense is carried forward with a different rhyme scheme and structure. Sir William Baer proposed that the first eight lines of the sonnet were similar to the Sicilian folksong stanza known as Strambotto, to which the sonnet's author, Lentini, added two more tercets.

The above paragraph implies that the Italian sonnet is divided into two parts: a pair of quatrains and a pair of tercets. In the first part, the first quatrain introduces a problem or conflict in the mind of the speaker, and the second quatrain is an octave, which forms the proposition, which usually describes the problem or a question. Later, the pair of tercets (sestet) is described as a volta or a turn, which is marked by a change in direction of the rhyme and also the conflict. The second part is some form of resolution.

To make matters worse, the rhyme scheme of the Italian sonnet and the Petrarca sonnet differed on some levels, with Petrarca sometimes writing the pair of quatrains as ABBA ABBA. And because the sestet is more adaptable, he tried many variations in his sonnets, to name a few: CDE CDE, CDDCDD, CDDECE, or CDDCCD. Although, in the strict Petrarchan sonnet, the ending is never a couplet, as it would end up being the same as the English sonnet rhyme scheme.

Main Difference Between English Sonnet and Italian Sonnet in Points

  • The Italian sonnet is the one that originated the concept of the sonnet the world, which also makes it difficult to find the proper words and rhyme to complete the sonnet. The English sonnet is the one that is the most commonly shared and written extensively.
  • The Italian sonnet originated in the 1300s by the leader of the Sicilian school. The English sonnet came into the picture around the early 1500s.
  • The English sonnet came into existence through an obsessive sonnet writer named Thomas Wyatt, who consistently translated Italian sonnets and even added his edition for the readers. In case of the Italian sonnet, as we know, was the first ever written by Giacomo da Lentini.
  • Both sonnets contain 14 lines, but the way they are structured is different. For instance, the English sonnet is a group of three quatrains (4 lines) and a couplet (2 lines), and in the Italian sonnet, the 14 lines are divided into two parts: the octave (8 lines) and the sestet (6 lines).
  • The first eight lines of an Italian sonnet, known as the octet, discuss the problem, while the final eight lines, known as the sestet, present the solution or moral. On the contrary, in the English sonnet, the first two quatrains (4 lines) explain the problem, the third quatrain presents the solution, and the couplets at the end give the morale or conclude the sonnet.
  • The distribution changes the position of the volta, or the turning point, of the two sonnets. For example, in the English sonnet, it is found in the third quatrain, and in the Italian sonnet, it is found in the ninth line.
  • The rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet is most commonly ABBA ABBA and CDE CDE, but the ending sestet may use the "Sicilian sestet," which is CDC CDC. The English sonnet, on the other hand, uses an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme.
  • The Italian sonnets are often called Petrarchan sonnets because of Francesco Petrarca's famous writings; similarly, in the case of the English sonnet, most of the sonnets are often named after William Shakespeare as the Shakespearean sonnet.
  • William Shakespeare is not the first poet to ever use this form, but he became famous for having written dozens of love poems and songs in sonnet form. Francesco Petrarca is the person who became famous in Italian sonnets because of all his romantic poems in sonnet form.


Only Shakespeare alone composed 154 sonnets, also published in 1609. But the weight falls on the Italian sonnet since Guittone d'Arezzo, the Tuscan poet and founder of the Tuscan school, wrote almost 300 sonnets. He wasn't the one who became as famous as Petrarca, but he held the record for writing the most sonnets in the timeline.

The Sonnet originated in Italy and spread to other continents later. As the sonnet started in the English language, everyone around the world started to recognise the concept and started to compose, read, study, and listen to all types of sonnets. Yes, the English sonnet has the upper hand since the common language is English, but let's not forget the origin of the beautifully structured poem.

To sum up, the exquisite nature of sonnets in each language is unspeakable, yet the composer of such a poem has brought about lots of changes around the globe. People have subjects and modules of sonnets in the literature section. Some even research specific sonnets to gain new perspectives. I hope some of these composers emerge and give us some astonishing sonnets.


  • Sonnet - Wikipedia
  • Petrarchan sonnet - Wikipedia
  • English Sonnet vs. Italian Sonnet: What Is the Difference? (wordwool.com)
  • History of the Sonnet – British Literature to 1800 (pressbooks.pub)


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"Difference Between English and Italian Sonnet." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sun. 03 Mar. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-english-and-italian-sonnet-1127>.

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