Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses Nursery Rhyme- Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses is a famous singing game with origins in England. The song is known as Ring Around Your Rosie in the United States. In most variations, children form a circle/ring and sing as they move/dance around someone in the middle.

There is a prevailing thought that the song references the Black Plague that wreaked havoc in England.

How true is that, though?

That’s what I’ll answer in this article.

Animation picture of kids playing in a circle

Let’s dive in and learn everything, including its history, origins, and all it entails.


The song has many versions depending on the geographical region. However, this is the most common version.  

Lyrics for Ring A Ring O’ Roses as Sung Today

Ring-a-ring-a-rosies (Ring Around the Rosie)
A pocket full of posies
A-tishoo, a-tishoo
We all fall down

The king has sent his daughter
To fetch a pail of water
a-tishoo, a-tishoo
We all fall down

The robin on the steeple
Is singing to the people
A-tishoo, a-tishoo
We all fall down

The cows are in the meadow
Lying fast asleep
A-tishoo, a-tishoo
We all get up again.

Some versions use ashes instead of a-tishoo, as seen in Mother Goose Club’s performance.

Others replace it with the sneezing sound achoo, and others bluebirds, blackbirds.

Full Original Lyrics for Ring a Ring O’ Roses

The song has many original versions. These versions don’t vary much from the modern version.

The first depictions of the song also had different words, with the constant being the first line. Here are the depictions starting with the earliest of them all.

The 1855 Version of Anna S Stephens’ The Old Homestead

A ring–a ring of roses,
Laps full of posies;
Now come and make
A ring–a ring of roses
Ring a Ring or roses
A Pocket full of posies
Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!
We’re all tumbled down!

Here is another of the earlier versions:

A ring–a ring of roses,
Laps full of posies;
Now come and make
A ring–a ring of roses

And another:

Ring around a rosy
Pocket full of posies.
One, two, three—squat!

Yet another:

A ring, a ring o’roses
A pocket full of posies
One for Jack and one for Jim, and one for little Moses
A curchey in and a curchey out
And a curchey all together

A curchey, in this case, means to curtsy or bow to show respect.


Who Came Up with Ring a Ring O’ Roses?

Like many other nursery rhymes, the original author of Ring a Ring o’ Roses is unknown. Though the song is speculated to have been sung by children for years, the earliest printed version only appeared in 1881.

Speculation has it that children were s9nging the song as early as 1790, only that no one had thought to record it. That was before the 1881 publication in the Mother Goose Book.

Evidence of Ring a Ring o’ Roses existing before 1881 can be seen in a German song that closely resembles the song. The German song has a printing date of 1796.

The song has many variants, each with a few different words. That is obvious with the many variants across most European nations, including Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

kids holding hands in circle

What Inspired Ring a Ring o’ Roses?

It is unclear what inspired the song. What makes it harder to figure out is that the author is unknown, so it’s difficult to understand whatever inspiration they had when writing the song.


What Does the Nursery Rhyme Ring Around the Rosie Mean?

The song doesn’t have a deeper meaning beyond depicting a children’s singing game. Though several theories about what the song might mean, such theories have no proof.

One theory, for instance, says the song is a pagan ode, and others say that Rosie is French for the rose tree.

What is A Ring?

A ring is a small ornament worn around a finger, often as a token of marriage. In this context, it means to surround or go around something. From how the singing game is played, children form a circle (ring) and go round as they sing the song.

What is a Rosie?

A Rosie is a small cluster of flowers

What are possies?

A posy is a small flower. So, possies would be many of these tiny flowers.

What does Pocketful of Posies Mean?

The phrase means having your pocket filled with small flowers.

What Does A-tishoo mean?

A-tishoo, in the song, refers to the sound we make when sneezing. It’s a corruption of the sound- achoo!

What is a Pail?

A pail is a container used to carry or store water. It is also called a bucket.

What’s a steeple?

A steeple is a tall tower typically found on top of a church. The typical steeple has a belfry, lantern, and spire. The steeples are where you’re most likely to find the church bell.


Does Ring a Ring o’ Roses Refer to the Bubonic Plague?

Picture of child thinking

No, it doesn’t. A quick google search of the song will bring up several results, among them claims the song was coined following the events of the Bubonic plague that hit medieval England.

However, that’s not true. The song has many theories that try to explain its origins; this one about the Bubonic plague is the most famous. That theory has only grown recently after picking up pace in the 1950s.

In his many works, James Fitzgerald seems to think the song is indeed about the plague. Here is what he says:

“Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses is all about the Great Plague, the apparent whimsy being a foil for one of London’s most atavistic dreads (thanks to the Black Death). The fatalism of the rhyme is brutal: the roses are a euphemism for deadly rashes, the posies a supposed preventative measure; the a-tishoos pertain to sneezing symptoms, and the implication of everyone falling down is, well, death.”

However, other folklorists have cast doubt on this claim since it only gained prominence in the middle of the 20th century. The first claims that the song referred to the plague occurred in 1951, hundreds of years since the song was first heard.

If the song referred to the plague, written evidence would have existed even before claims of the epidemic materialized in 1951. Also, the song has many variants, with some European countries singing it in their languages.

These variants have no part about sneezing or people falling after sneezing. Neither do those versions have words to describe the symptoms of the great plague. If that were the case, then surely that wouldn’t be absent in the song.

To cast further doubt on the theory of falling referring to death, many variants of the song say people stand up after falling.

Therefore, we can say the song doesn’t refer to the plague. Neither does it have any deeper meaning that would make people think of it as a death song.

The plague origins quickly gained traction simply because it was quite interesting. Historians say this has become more significant with the growth of social media and the internet.

Claims of the song’s dark meaning litter the internet, a phenomenon folklorists call meta folklore. That doesn’t make the song dark, so enjoy it without worrying about the dark meaning.

Does Ring Around the Rosie Have Any Lessons?

Ring Around the Rosie doesn’t have any direct lessons you can learn from it. It is purely for children’s entertainment.

Is Ring a Ring o’ Roses in the Public Domain?

Yes, Ring-A-Ring O Roses is a public-domain song. This means that no one has the copyright to it and that if you want to use the song in your work, you can.

(Disclaimer: This is a general–not a legally confirmed fact, and you need to do more research into the laws in your jurisdiction/country to ensure you can use this song)

Today, anything published or copyrighted before 1925 is considered a public domain creation. Rock a Bye has a publishing date of 1881, making it a public-domain song.

But this does not apply to other people’s versions of it–for example, if you made a version of the song, I can’t use it without your permission.

How do You Sing Ring a Ring o’ Roses in Sign Language?

You can sing Ring a Ring o’ Roses in sign language. Check the below resource to see how.


The following is a selection of Lesson Plans inspired by Ring a Ring o’ Roses. You need to click on the images to go to the websites to learn more and download the resources.


What Time Signature Is Ring a Ring o’ Roses?

Ring a Ring o’ Roses is played in a time signature of ¾.


You can play Ring Around the Rosie with different instruments. Check the below resources for help.


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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