One-syllable words and syllables in longer words can be divided into two parts, the onset and the rime: The onset is the consonant sound, if any, that precedes the vowel, and the rime is the vowel and any consonant sounds that follow it. For example, in show, sh is the onset and ow is the rime, and in ball, b is the onset and all is the rime. For at and up, there is no onset; the entire word is the rime. Research has shown that children make more errors decoding and spelling the rime than the onset and more errors on vowels than on consonants (Caldwell & Leslie, 2005). In fact, rimes may provide an important key to word identification.

Wylie and Durrell (1970) identified 37 rimes, including -ay, -ing, -oke, and -ump, that are found in nearly 500 common words; these rimes and some words using each one are presented in the table below. Knowing these rimes and recognizing common words made from them are very helpful for beginning readers because they can use the words to decode other words (Cunningham, 2009). For example, when children know the -ay rime and recognize say, they use this knowledge to pronounce clay: They identify the -ay rime and blend cl with ay to decode the word. This strategy is called decoding by analogy.

Rime Examples Rime Examples
-ack black, pack, quack, stack -ide bride, hide, ride, side
-ail mail, nail, sail, tail -ight bright, fight, light, might
-ain brain, chain, plain, rain -ill fill, hill, kill, will
-ake cake, shake, take, wake -in hin, grin, pin, win
-ale male, sale, tale, whale -ine fine, line, mine, nine
-ame came, flame, game, name -ing king, sing, thing, wing
-an can, man, pan, than -ink pink, sink, think, wink
-ank bank, drank, sank, thank -ip drip, hip, lip, ship
-ap cap, clap, map, slap -it bit, flit, quit, sit
-ash cash, dash, flash, trash -ock block, clock, knock, sock
-at bat, cat, rat, that -oke choke, joke, poke, woke
-ate gate, hate, late, plate -op chop, drop, hop, shop
-aw claw, draw, jaw, saw -ore chore, more, shore, store
-ay day, play, say, way -ot dot, got, knot, trot
-eat beat, heat, meat, wheat -uck duck, luck, suck, truck
-ell bell, sell, shell, well -ug bug, drug, hug, rug
-est best, chest, nest, west -ump bump, dump, hump, lump
-ice mice, nice, rice, slice -unk bunk, dunk, junk, sunk
-ick  brick, pick, sick, thick    

Teachers refer to rimes as phonograms or word families when they teach them, even though phonogram is a misnomer; by definition, a phonogram is a letter or group of letters that represent a single sound. Two of the rimes, -aw and -ay, represent single sounds, but the other 35 don’t.

Beginning readers often read and write words using each phonogram. First and second graders can read and write these words made using -ain: brain, chain, drain, grain, main, pain, plain, rain, sprain, stain, and train. Students must be familiar with consonant blends and digraphs to read and spell these words.