Riddle: what it is, characteristics, structure of the riddle and more


What is a riddle?

It is a kind of riddle that is composed of a short statement and is often set in the form of rhyme. It is known in the literary world, mainly because it belongs to oral literature, since it has been transmitted through the spoken word and many of them have survived from generation to generation.

In general terms, the riddle is a simple riddle that is characterized by describing an aspect, object or any element in an indirect way, so that the receiver, reader or simply the person to whom it is addressed can identify the element to which the riddle refers. This is due to the fact that the statement is composed of clues that guide the receiver and will allow him/her to reach the solution.

Most important characteristics of the riddle

Undoubtedly, riddles are one of those statements that we have heard at some point in our lives, some with greater or lesser complexity. Let’s see below the main characteristics of this type of oral literature:

Intent of the riddle

According to the type of audience to which it is addressed, the geographical area in which it is used, among other elements, it is possible to identify the intention of the riddle. In this sense, it is possible to identify riddles with educational intention due to a component of this type that may be present in it, as well as there are others that are in charge of representing traditions of a culture, explaining concepts, generating humor and entertainment, among other possible intentions.

Variety of audiences

One of the most important aspects of riddles, and in fact one of the reasons why it is possible that it is still alive in the speech of different cultures, has to do with the fact that they have a variety of audiences. In this sense, the riddle can be directed to children, but also, according to its complexity and intention, it can be oriented to the juvenile and adult public.

Possibility of dialogue

The riddle is also presented as a communicative element from which the enigma is emitted by the enunciator, waiting for the answer of the addressee for its resolution. Thus, we can identify the creation of a space of dialogue and dynamism that seeks the answer to the riddle, where the announcer issues the riddle, knows the answer and waits for the reception of the addressee, its evaluation and subsequent solution. It is in this way that a dialogue is created between the two main participants.

Anonymous author

As part of oral literature, the riddle is one of the types of literature that does not have a recognized author, as they are part of the popular culture of a given region and usually have this character because they have been transmitted from generation to generation. This passage through time and the regions to which it moves, also produces a change to the extent that it adapts to the area where it arrives, the time and customs of the region.

Everyday references

Another important aspect of the riddle has to do with the fact that it usually makes reference to elements, situations or aspects that are part of everyday life and that we can identify within our general practices, since many of them consist of elements of nature, animals, utensils, parts of the body, etc.

What is a riddle

Structure of the riddle

One of the main faculties of the riddle is related to the great variety of formats in which we can find it. Thus, we can find riddles that are developed in different measures of meter and composition. However, a great part of them are composed by octosyllabic verses with stanzas of two and four verses, together with rhymes that can be assonant or consonant.

Riddles frequently appear with puns, one of the most recurrent practices in the expression of the riddle, as well as its brief extension and other elements, among them those that we will see next:

Introductory formulas

They can appear mainly in paired verses. These introductory elements can serve several functions, including provoking a challenge, initiating with a question, offering a special location, or simply beginning with a description of a characteristic.

Concluding formulas

To end the statement, a simple or complex conclusion formula of the enigma appears, where the addressee can be motivated to continue or not by a play on words that may even tease or offer an incentive to solve it. This element is very important, since it establishes the challenge that the addressee will find very difficult to refuse.

Elements to guide

These are elements that can be found inside the riddle. These can appear as a decomposition of the word, either because it is fragmented or broken down, giving rise to a popular etymology. In other words, a semantic change can occur that builds the pun and orients the addressee to reveal the riddle’s answer.

Disorienting elements

We also find elements that are used in order to avoid obviousness and a quick answer, since rhetorical or sense traps are generated that serve to disorient, as its name says, the addressee about the answer. Thus, the challenge to answer is created. In many cases, dilogy or double meaning, the sound of words, among others, are used.

Example of the riddle

It is possible that we find in different texts, nowadays, but also in our memory because we have heard it once, a specific riddle that we have not forgotten. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular ones:


White on the inside,
green on the outside.
If you don’t know,

Correct answer: the pear

How to create a riddle

Finally, we end our section with a series of key elements to create a riddle. Here are some points to keep in mind when writing and reciting a riddle:

Choosing an object

The first step is to select an object, which will later become the word that the recipient must guess. It can be any type of item according to the creator’s preference, e.g. a fruit, a tool, a kitchen utensil, a household item, a familiar toy, a color, etc.

Identify its particularities

Once you have chosen the item or object, we must make a complete observation of it through which we can identify particular aspects. In this case, it is important that we recognize those qualities that characterize it in a general way, and that serve us to build the riddle, because we must include a series of clues with terms that must allude to the object.

Word organization

One of the objectives is to use as few words as possible in the formulation of the riddle text, without leaving the idea incomplete. The creator must select the precise words that link the characteristics of the object according to the possible circumstances by which it can be guessed. Writing in prose and using the most appropriate words is recommended.

Test the riddle

With these elements ready and the riddle finished, it is time to put it to the test. This involves telling it to the target audience, usually children, and having them reconstruct it according to the proposed tools. If there are many difficulties in solving the riddle, some clues could be offered, if it is definitely not possible to connect the references with the solution, it is convenient to check if there could be some modifications, even if it was solved in a different way than planned.

To learn more about other types of oral literature that are part of this large category in which we can identify different manifestations, remember that in our section dedicated to this field you can find much more information. On the other hand, if you want to know more about the literary world, remember that we have a section dedicated to this art.