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.
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An iamb (/ˈaɪæm/ or iambus) is a metrical foot used in various types of verse . Originally the term referred to a foot in the quantitative meter of classical Greek prosody: a short syllable followed by a long syllable (as in delay). The Greek terminology was adopted in the description of accentual-syllabic verse in English, where it refers to a foot comprising an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as in a-bove).

The reverse of an iamb is called a trochee.


  • Iamb (iamb) n. I"amb [Cf. F. iambe. See Lambus.]
  1. An iambus or iambic.
  • Iambic (iambic) a. I*am"bic [L. iambicus, Gr. (?): cf. F. iambique.]
  1. Consisting of a short syllable followed by a long one, or of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented; as, an iambic foot .
  2. Pertaining to, or composed of, iambics; as, an iambic verse ; iambic meter . See Iambus.
  • Iambic (iambic) n. I*am"bic
  1. An iambic foot; an iambus.
  2. A satirical poem (such poems having been anciently written in iambic verse); a satire; a lampoon.
  • Iambical (iambical) a. I*am"bic*al
  1. Iambic. [Obs. or R.]
  • Iambically (iambically) adv. I*am"bic*al*ly
  1. In a iambic manner; after the manner of iambics.
  • Iambize (iambize) v.t. I*am"bize [Gr.]
  1. To satirize in iambics; to lampoon.
  • Iambus (iambus) n. I*am"bus; pl. L. Iambi
  1. (A foot consisting of a short syllable followed by a long one, as in mns, or of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one, as invent; an iambic.[1]


The word iamb comes from Iambe, a Greek minor goddess of verse, especially scurrilous, ribald humour. In ancient Greece iambus was mainly a satirical poem, a lampoon, which did not automatically imply a particular metrical type. Iambic metre took its name from being characteristic of iambi, not vice versa.[2]

Accentual-syllabic usageEdit


In accentual-syllabic verse (like English), an iamb as a foot that consists of one unstressed followed by one stressed syllable. We could describe it as a foot that goes like this:

da DUM

Using the 'ictus and x' notation (see systems of scansion for a full discussion of various notations) we can write this as:


In phonology, an iambic foot is notated in a flat representation as (σ'σ) or as foot tree with two branches W and S where W = weak and S = strong.

Natural iambsEdit

A natural iamb is a two-syllable word with the second syllable stressed: a word that fits `naturally`into just one iambic foot.

Because in English-language polysyllabic words, roots are normally stressed, while prefixes and suffixes are unstressed, most two-syllable words containing prefixes are natural iambs. (Most but not all, as pronunciations of some words have changed over time.)

For example, the word 'attempt' is a natural iamb:


Other naturally iambic words are (mostly) those two-syllable words beginning with:

  1. a- (about, above, ahead, along, amid, among, anon, around, atop, attack, attract)
  2. be- (behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond)
  3. de- (defeat, degrade, delight, demand, demean, detract)
  4. en- (enact, endow, enjoin)
  5. ex- (exact, exalt, exist)
  6. for- (forbear, forget, forgive, forlorn)
  7. im- (immense, immune)
  8. in- (inane, insane, inspect, intact, inter)
  9. pro- (produce, profound, pronounce, propose, propound)
  10. sub (subsist, subsume, subtract)
  11. sur- (surround)
  12. un- (unharmed, unhurt, unkempt, unstressed)
  13. up- (upon)

Iambic forms of verseEdit

Iambic pentameterEdit

Iambic Pentameter is a meter referring to a line consisting of five iambic feet:</p>

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Alfred Tennyson, "Ulysses")
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

Iambic pentameter is one of the most commonly used measures in English poetry.

Iambic tetrameter Edit

Iambic tetrameter is a meter referring to a line consisting of four iambic feet:

Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring. (Edward Dyer, "My Mind to Me A Kingdom Is")
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. (Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky")

Iambic trimeterEdit

Iambic trimeter is the metre of the spoken verses in Greek tragedy and comedy (comprising six iambs - as one iambic metrum consisted of two iambs). In English accentual-syllabic verse, iambic trimeter is a line comprising three iambs.

Common meterEdit

Another common iambic form is common meter, in which a line of iambic tetrameter is succeeded by a line of iambic trimeter, usually in quatrains (but sometimes octaves or longer) with alternate rhyme (a-b-a-b). If the tetrameter lines do not rhyme, the result is called ballad meter .

Iambic heptameterEdit

Iambic Heptameter is a meter referring to a line consisting of seven iambic feet:

I s'pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark. (A. B. Paterson, The Man from Ironbark)

. A. B. "Banjo" Paterson wrote much of his poetry in iambic heptameter (which is sometimes called the 'fourteener '), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner also conforms to this stress pattern (although it is usually written as though it were composed of ballad meter.

  • Non-bold = unstressed syllable
  • Bold = stressed syllable

See also Edit

References Edit

Murfin, R, & Ray, S, 2009; "The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms", published by Palgrave MacMillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS, companies and representatives throughout the world, 2009. Copyright 2009 by Bedford/St. Martin's, all rights reserved. Libray of Congress Control Number: 2008925882 ISBN 0-312-46188-7, ISBN 978-0-230-22330-3


  1. "Iamb" Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913,, Web, July 8, 2011.
  2. Studies in Greek elegy and iambus By Martin Litchfield West Page 22 ISBN 3110045850
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