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Foot (poetry)

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A Foot is the unit of meter in verse in most Western traditions of poetry (including English accentual-syllabic verse and the quantitative meter of ancient Greek and Latin poetry).


Foot, n. [ pl. Feet (f***emacr]t). [OE. fot, foot, pl. fet, feet. AS. ft, pl.f***emacr]t; akin to D. voet, OHG. fuoz, G. fuss, Icel. f]

9. A combination of syllables comprising a metrical element of a verse , the syllables being formerly distinguished by their quantity or length, but in modern poetry by the accent .[1]

The English word "foot" is a translation of the Latin term pes, plural pedes; the equivalent term in Greek, sometimes used in English as well, is metron, plural metra, which means "measure." The foot might be compared to a measure in musical notation. The foot is a purely metrical unit; there is no inherent relation to a word or phrase as a unit of meaning or syntax, though the interplay between syntax and meter is a function of the individual poet's skill and artistry.

The poetic feet in EnglishEdit

Metrical feet
˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯ iamb
¯ ˘ trochee, choree
¯ ¯ spondee
˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯ anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯ molossus
Number of feet per line
one Monometer
two Dimeter
three Trimeter
four Tetrameter
five Pentameter
six Hexameter
seven Heptameter
eight Octameter
See main article for tetrasyllables.
v · d · e

The foot is composed of syllables, the number of which is limited, to a few variations, by the sound pattern the foot represents. In poetry written in the English language, a foot is a combination of two or three accented (stressed) and/or unaccented (unstressed) syllables. The following are the four most common feet found in English poetry:

  • Iambic (the noun is "iamb"): an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, a pattern which comes closest to approximating the natural rhythm of speech. Note line 23 from Shelley's "Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples":
And WALKED / with IN/ward GLOR/y CROWNED.
  • Trochaic (the noun is "trochee"): a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable, as in the first line of Blake's "Introduction" to Songs of Innocence:
PIPing / DOWN the / VALleys / WILD
  • Anapestic (the noun is "anapest"): two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, as in "A Visit from St. Nicholas:
'Twas the NIGHT / before CHRIST/mas and ALL / through the HOUSE
    1. Dactylic (the noun is "dactyl"): a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in Thomas Hardy's "The Voice":
WOman much / MISSED how you / CALL to me / CALL to me

Tetrasyllabic (four-syllable) feet do not play much of a role in English prosody, but two need to be noted. One is the choriamb, consisting of a trochee followed by an iamb (DUM-da-da-DUM). The other is the double iamb, equivalent to a pyrrhus followed by a spondee (da-da-DUM-DUM). Either can commonly be substituted for two iambic feet.

Meter also refers to the number of feet in a line:

For example, iambic pentameter (the most popular meter in English poetry) is verse (lines) of five iambic feet.

Any number above six feet (hexameter) is heard as a combination of shorter lines; for example, heptameter (seven feet in a line) is aurally indistinguishable from successive lines of tetrameter and trimeter (4-3).

˘ ˘ ˘ ˘tetrabrach, proceleusmatic
¯ ˘ ˘ ˘primus paeon
˘ ¯ ˘ ˘secundus paeon
˘ ˘ ¯ ˘tertius paeon
˘ ˘ ˘ ¯quartus paeon
¯ ¯ ˘ ˘major ionic, double trochee
˘ ˘ ¯ ¯minor ionic, double iamb
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ditrochee
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯diiamb
¯ ˘ ˘ ¯choriamb
˘ ¯ ¯ ˘antispast
˘ ¯ ¯ ¯first epitrite
¯ ˘ ¯ ¯second epitrite
¯ ¯ ˘ ¯third epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ˘fourth epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯dispondee

The poetic feet in classical meterEdit

Below are listed the names given to the poetic feet by classical metrics. The feet are classified first by the number of syllables in the foot (disyllables have two, trisyllables three, and tetrasyllables four) and secondarily by the pattern of vowel lengths (in classical languages) or syllable stresses (in English poetry) which they comprise. The following lists describe the feet in terms of vowel length (as in classical languages). Translated into syllable stresses (as in English poetry), 'long' becomes 'stressed' ('accented'), and 'short' becomes 'unstressed' ('unaccented'). For example, an iamb, which is short-long in classical meter, becomes unstressed-stressed, as in the English word "betray."


¯ = long syllable, ˘ = short syllable (macron and breve notation)

˘ ˘pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯iamb
¯ ˘trochee, choree (or choreus)
¯ ¯spondee


˘ ˘ ˘tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯molossus


˘ ˘ ˘ ˘tetrabrach, proceleusmatic
¯ ˘ ˘ ˘primus paeon
˘ ¯ ˘ ˘secundus paeon
˘ ˘ ¯ ˘tertius paeon
˘ ˘ ˘ ¯quartus paeon
¯ ¯ ˘ ˘major ionic, double trochee
˘ ˘ ¯ ¯minor ionic, double iamb
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ditrochee
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯diiamb
¯ ˘ ˘ ¯choriamb
˘ ¯ ¯ ˘antispast
˘ ¯ ¯ ¯first epitrite
¯ ˘ ¯ ¯second epitrite
¯ ¯ ˘ ¯third epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ˘fourth epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯dispondee


  1. "Foot ," Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913,, Web, July 5, 2011.

External linksEdit


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