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This article deals with the topic of meter as used in verse and poetry of languages other than English.

Greek and LatinEdit

The metrical "feet" in the classical languages were based on the length of time taken to pronounce each syllable, which were categorized according to their weight as either "long" syllables or "short" syllables (indicated as daa and duh below). These are also called "heavy" and "light" syllables, respectively, to distinguish from long and short vowels. The foot is often compared to a musical measure and the long and short syllables to whole notes and half notes. In English poetry, feet are determined by emphasis rather than length, with stressed and unstressed syllables serving the same function as long and short syllables in classical meter.

The basic unit in Greek and Latin prosody is a mora, which is defined as a single short syllable. A long syllable is equivalent to two moras. A long syllable contains either a long vowel, a diphthong, or a short vowel followed by two or more consonants. Various rules of elision sometimes prevent a grammatical syllable from making a full syllable, and certain other lengthening and shortening rules (such as correption) can create long or short syllables in contexts where one would expect the opposite.

The most important Classical meter is the dactylic hexameter, the meter of Homer and Virgil. This form uses verses of six feet. The word dactyl comes from the Greek word daktylos meaning finger, since there is one long part followed by two short stretches.[1] The first four feet are dactyls (daa-duh-duh), but can be spondees (daa-daa). The fifth foot is almost always a dactyl. The sixth foot is either a spondee or a trochee (daa-duh). The initial syllable of either foot is called the ictus, the basic "beat" of the verse. There is usually a caesura after the ictus of the third foot. The opening line of the Æneid is a typical line of dactylic hexameter:

Armă vÄ­ | rumquÄ• că | nō, Troi | ae quÄ« | prÄ«mÅ­s ăb | ōrÄ«s</font>
("I sing of arms and the man, who first from the shores of Troy. . . ")

In this example, the first and second feet are dactyls; their first syllables, "Ar" and "rum" respectively, contain short vowels, but count as long because the vowels are both followed by two consonants. The third and fourth feet are spondees, the first of which is divided by the main caesura of the verse. The fifth foot is a dactyl, as is nearly always the case. The final foot is a spondee.

The dactylic hexameter was imitated in English by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Evangeline:

::This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Notice how the first line:

This is the | for-est pri | me-val. The | mur-muring | pines and the | hem-locks

Follows this pattern:

DUM diddy | DUM diddy | DUM diddy | DUM diddy | DUM diddy | DUM dum

Also important in Greek and Latin poetry is the dactylic pentameter. This was a line of verse, made up of two equal parts, each of which contains two dactyls followed by a long syllable, which counts as a half foot. In this way, the number of feet amounts to five in total. Spondees can take the place of the dactyls in the first half, but never in the second. The long syllable at the close of the first half of the verse always ends a word, giving rise to a caesura.

Dactylic pentameter is never used in isolation. Rather, a line of dactylic pentameter follows a line of dactylic hexameter in the elegiac distich or elegiac couplet, a form of verse that was used for the composition of elegies and other tragic and solemn verse in the Greek and Latin world, as well as love poetry that was sometimes light and cheerful. An example from Ovid's Tristia:

VergÄ­lÄ­ | um vÄ« | dÄ« tan | tum, nÄ•c ă | māră TÄ­ | bullō</font>
Tempŭs ă | mīcĭtĭ | ae || fātă dĕ | dērĕ mĕ | ae.</font>
("I saw only Vergil, greedy Fate gave Tibullus no time for me.")

The Greeks and Romans also used a number of lyric meters, which were typically used for shorter poems than elegiacs or hexameter. In Aeolic verse, one important line was called the hendecasyllabic, a line of eleven syllables. This meter was used most often in the Sapphic stanza, named after the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote many of her poems in the form. A hendecasyllabic is a line with a never-varying structure: two trochees, followed by a dactyl, then two more trochees. In the Sapphic stanza, three hendecasyllabics are followed by an "Adonic" line, made up of a dactyl and a trochee. This is the form of Catullus 51 (itself an homage to Sappho 31):

IllÄ• | mÄ« pār | essÄ• dÄ• | ō vÄ­ | dÄ“tÅ­r;
illÄ•, | sÄ« fās | est, sÅ­pÄ• | rārÄ• | dÄ«vōs,
quÄ« sÄ• | dÄ“ns ad | versÅ­s Ä­ | dentÄ­ | dem tÄ“
spectăt ĕt | audĭt
("He seems to me to be like a god; if it is permitted, he seems above the gods, he who sitting across from you gazes at you and listens to you.")

The Sapphic stanza was imitated in English by Algernon Charles Swinburne in a poem he simply called Sapphics:

:Saw the white implacable Aphrodite,

Saw the hair unbound and the feet unsandalled
Shine as fire of sunset on western waters;
Saw the reluctant...

Classical ArabicEdit

The metrical system of Classical Arabic poetry, like those of classical Greek and Latin, is based on the weight of syllables classified as either "long" or "short".

A short syllable contains a short vowel with no following consonants. For example, the word kataba, which syllabifies as ka-ta-ba, contains three short vowels. A long syllable contains either a long vowel, or a short vowel followed by a consonant as is the case in the word maktūbun which syllabifies as mak-tū-bun. These are the only syllable types possible in Arabic phonology which, by and large, does not allow a syllable to end in more than one consonant or a consonant to occur in the same syllable after a long vowel. In other words, with very few exceptions, syllables of the type -āk- or -akr- are not found in classical Arabic.

Each verse consists of a certain number of metrical feet (tafā`īl or ajzā') and a certain combination of possible feet constitutes a meter (baħr.)

The traditional Arabic practice for writing out a poem's meter is to use a concatenation of various derivations of the verbal root F-`-L ( فعل). Thus, the following hemistich

qifā nabki min dhikrā ħabībin wamanzilī

قفا نبك من ذكرى حبيبٍ ومنزلِ

Would be traditionally scanned as

Fa`ūlun mafā`īlun fa`ūlun mafā`ilun

فعولن مفاعيلن فعولن مفاعلن

Which, according to the system more current in the west, can be represented as:

u-- u--- u-- u-u-

The Arabic MetersEdit

Classical Arabic has sixteen established meters. Though each of them allows for a certain amount of variation, their basic patterns are as follows, using "-" for a long syllable, "u" for a short one, "x" for a syllable that can be long or short and "o" for a position that can either contain one long or two shorts:

The Ṭawīl (الطويل):

u-x u-x- u-x u-u-

فعولن مفاعيلن فعولن مفاعيلن

The Madīd (المديد):

xu—xu- xu-

فاعلاتن فاعلن فاعلاتن

The Basīṭ (البسيط):

x-u- xu- x-u- uu-

مستفعلن فاعلن مستفعلن فعلن

The Kāmil (الكامل):

o-u- o-u- o-u-

متفاعلن متفاعلن متفاعلن

The Wāfir (الوافر):

u-o- u-o- u--

مفاعلتن مفاعلتن فعولن

The Hajaz (الهجز):

u--x u--x

مفاعيلن مفاعيلن

The Rajaz (الرجز):

x-u- x-u- x-u-

مستفعلن مستفعلن مستفعلن

The Ramal (الرمل):


فاعلاتن فاعلاتن فاعلن

The Sarī` (السريع):

xxu- xxu- -u-

مستفعلن مستفعلن فاعلن

The Munsariħ (المنسرح):

x-u- -x-u -uu-

مستفعلن فاعلاتُ مستفعلن

The Khafīf (الخفيف):

xu—x-u- xu—فاعلاتن مستفعلن فاعلاتن

The Muḍāri` (المضارع):

u-x x-u--

مفاعلن فاعلاتن

The Muqtaḍib (المقتضب):

xu- u- uu-

فاعلاتُ مفتعلن

The Mujtathth (المجتث):

x-u- xu—مستفعلن فاعلاتن

The Mutadārik (المتدارك):

o- o- o- o-

(Here, each "o" can also be "xu")

فاعلن فاعلن فاعلن فاعلن

The Mutaqārib (المتقارب):

u-x u-x u-x u-

فعولن فعولن فعولن فعول

Old EnglishEdit

The metric system of Old English poetry was different from that of modern English, and more related to the verse forms of most of older Germanic languages. It used alliterative verse, a metrical pattern involving varied numbers of syllables but a fixed number (usually four) of strong stresses in each line. The unstressed syllables were relatively unimportant, but the caesurae played a major role in Old English poetry.[2]

Modern EnglishEdit

Most English meter is classified according to the same system as Classical meter with an important difference. English is an accentual language, and therefore beats and offbeats (stressed and unstressed syllables) take the place of the long and short syllables of classical systems. In most English verse, the meter can be considered as a sort of back beat, against which natural speech rhythms vary expressively. The most common characteristic feet of English verse are the iamb in two syllables and the anapest in three. (See Foot (prosody) for a complete list of the metrical feet and their names.)

Metrical systemsEdit

The number of metrical systems in English is not agreed upon.[3] The four major types[4] are: accentual verse, accentual-syllabic verse, syllabic verse and quantitative verse.[5] The alliterative verse of Old English could also be added to this list, or included as a special type of accentual verse. Accentual verse focuses on the number of stresses in a line, while ignoring the number of offbeats and syllables; accentual-syllabic verse focuses on regulating both the number of stresses and the total number of syllables in a line; syllabic verse only counts the number of syllables in a line; quantitative verse regulates the patterns of long and short syllables (this sort of verse is often considered alien to English).[6] It is to be noted, however, that the use of foreign meters in English is all but exceptional.[7]

Frequently-used metersEdit

The most frequently encountered meter of English verse is the iambic pentameter, in which the metrical norm is five iambic feet per line, though metrical substitution is common and rhythmic variations practically inexhaustible. John Milton's Paradise Lost, most sonnets, and much else besides in English are written in iambic pentameter. Lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter are commonly known as blank verse.[8] Blank verse in the English language is most famously represented in the plays of William Shakespeare and the great works of Milton, though Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Ulysses, The Princess) and William Wordsworth (The Prelude) also make notable use of it.

A rhymed pair of lines of iambic pentameter make a heroic couplet,[9] a verse form used by Geoffrey Chaucer, which was used so often in the 18th century that it is now used mostly for humorous effect (although see Pale Fire for a non-trivial case). Famous 18th-century writers of heroic couplets include John Dryden and Alexander Pope.

Another important meter in English is the ballad meter, also called the "common meter". Originally rhyming couplets written in iambic heptameter - lines of seven feet - this has evolved into a four-line stanza, with two pairs of a line of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter; the rhymes usually fall on the lines of trimeter, although in many instances the tetrameter also rhymes. This is the meter of most of the Border and Scots or English ballads. In hymnody it is called the "common meter", as it is the most common of the named hymn meters used to pair many hymn lyrics with melodies, such as Amazing Grace:[10]

Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Emily Dickinson is famous for her frequent use of ballad meter:

Great streets of silence led away
To neighborhoods of pause —
Here was no notice — no dissent —
No universe — no laws.


In French poetry, meter is determined solely by the number of syllables in a line, because it is considered as less important than rhymes. A silent 'e' counts as a syllable before a consonant, but is elided before a vowel (where h aspiré counts as a consonant). At the end of a line, the "e" remains unelided but is hypermetrical (outside the count of syllables, like a feminine ending in English verse), in that case, the rhyme is also called "feminine", whereas it is called "masculine" in the other cases.

The most frequently encountered meter in Classical French poetry is the alexandrine, composed of two hemistiches of six syllables each. Two famous alexandrines are

La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaë
(Jean Racine)

(the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae), and

Waterloo ! Waterloo ! Waterloo ! Morne plaine!
(Victor Hugo)

(Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo! Gloomy plain!)

Classical French poetry also had a complex set of rules for rhymes that goes beyond how words merely sound. These are usually taken into account when describing the meter of a poem.


In Spanish poetry the meter is determined by the number of syllables the verse has. Still it is the phonetic accent in the last word of the verse that decides the final count of the line. If the accent of the final word is at the last syllable, then the poetic rule states that one syllable shall be added to the actual count of syllables in the said line, thus having a higher number of poetic syllables than the number of grammatical syllables. If the accent lies on the second to last syllable of the last word in the verse, then the final count of poetic syllables will be the same as the grammatical number of syllables. Furthermore, if the accent lies on the third to last syllable, then one syllable is subtracted from the actual count, having then less poetic syllables than grammatical syllables.

Spanish poetry uses poetic licenses, unique to Romance languages, to change the number of syllables by manipulating mainly the vowels in the line.

Regarding these poetic licenses one must consider three kinds of phenomena: (1) syneresis, (2) umlaut and (3) hiatus

1. Syneresis. It is the phenomenon that occurs when inside a word has two vowels together are generally not diphthong: poe-ta, loyal-ty.

2. Umlaut. It is the opposite phenomenon of syneresis because it consists of separate two vowels which are usually diphthong: su-to-see, ru-i-ing.

3. Hiatus. It is the opposite phenomenon to pronounce sinalefa separately because it consists of two vowels, although belonging to different words, they should act together for sinalefa: mu-si-tion of a-the. Normally in this example would be five syllables of poetry, but the poet used the hiatus for the six syllables that the rhythm of his verse needs. For example:

Cuando salí de Collores,
fue en una jaquita baya,
por un sendero entre mayas,
arropás de cundiamores...

This stanza from Valle de Collores by Luis Llorens Torres, uses eight poetic syllables. Given that all words at the end of each line have their phonetic accent on the second to last syllables, no syllables in the final count is either added or subtracted. Still in the second and third verse the grammatical count of syllables is nine. Poetic licenses permit the union of two vowels that are next to each other but in different syllables and count them as one. "Fue en..." has actually two syllables, but applying this license both vowels unite and form only one, giving the final count of eight syllables. "Sendero entre..." has five grammatical syllables, but uniting the "o" from "sendero" and the first "e" from "entre", gives only four syllables, permitting it to have eight syllables in the verse as well. This license is called a synalepha (Spanish: sinalefa).

There are many types of licenses, used either to add or subtract syllables, that may be applied when needed after taking in consideration the poetic rules of the last word. Yet all have in common that they only manipulate vowels that are close to each other and not interrupted by consonants.

Some common meters in Spanish verse are:

  • Septenary: A line with the seven poetic syllables
  • Octosyllable: A line with eight poetic syllables. This meter is commonly used in romances, narrative poems similar to English ballads, and in most proverbs.
  • Hendecasyllable: A line with eleven poetic syllables. This meter plays a similar role to pentameter in English verse. It is commonly used in sonnets, among other things.
  • Alexandrine: A line consisting of fourteen syllables, commonly separated by two hemistiches of seven syllables each (In Anglo-Saxon or French contexts this term refers to twelve syllables lines, but not in a Spanish context).


In Italian poetry, meter is determined solely by the position of the last accent in a line. Syllables are enumerated with respect to a verse which ends with a paroxytone, so that a Septenary (having seven syllables) is defined as a verse whose last accent falls on the sixth syllable: it may so contain eight syllables (Ei fu. Siccome immobile) or just six (la terra al nunzio sta). Moreover, when a word ends with a vowel and the next one starts with a vowel, they are considered to be in the same syllable: so Gli anni e i giorni consists of only four syllables ("Gli an" "ni e i" "gior" "ni"). Even-syllabic verses have a fixed stress pattern. Because of the mostly trochaic nature of the Italian language, verses with an even number of syllables are far easier to compose, and the Novenary is usually regarded as the most difficult verse.

Some common meters in Italian verse are:

  • Sexenary: A line whose last stressed syllabe is on the fifth, with a fixed stress on the second one as well (Al Re Travicello / Piovuto ai ranocchi, Giusti)
  • Septenary: A line whose last stressed syllable is the sixth one.
  • Octosyllable: A line whose last accent falls on the seventh syllable. More often than not, the secondary accents fall on the first, third and fifth syllable, especially in nursery rhymes for which this meter is particularly well-suited.
  • Hendecasyllable: A line whose last accent falls on the tenth syllable. It therefore usually consists of eleven syllables; there are various kinds of possible accentations . It is used in sonnets, in ottava rima, and in many other works. The Divine Comedy, in particular, is composed entirely of hendecasyllables, whose main stress pattern is 4th and 10th syllable. (Citation needed)

Ottoman TurkishEdit

In the Ottoman Turkish language, the structures of the poetic foot (تفعل tef'ile) and of poetic meter (وزن vezin) were indirectly borrowed from the Arabic poetic tradition through the medium of the Persian language.

Ottoman poetry, also known as Dîvân poetry, was generally written in quantitative, mora-timed meter. The moras, or syllables, are divided into three basic types:

  • Open, or light, syllables (açık hece) consist of either a short vowel alone, or a consonant followed by a short vowel
    • Examples: a-dam ("man"); zir-ve ("summit, peak")
  • Closed, or heavy, syllables (kapalı hece) consist of either a long vowel alone, a consonant followed by a long vowel, or a short vowel followed by a consonant
    • Examples: Â-dem ("Adam"); kâ-fir ("non-Muslim"); at ("horse")
  • Lengthened, or superheavy, syllables (meddli hece) count as one closed plus one open syllable and consist of a vowel followed by a consonant cluster, or a long vowel followed by a consonant
    • Examples: kürk ("fur"); âb ("water")

In writing out a poem's poetic meter, open syllables are symbolized by "." and closed syllables are symbolized by "–". From the different syllable types, a total of sixteen different types of poetic foot—the majority of which are either three or four syllables in length—are constructed, which are named and scanned as follows:

      fa‘ (–) fe ul (. –) fa‘ lün (– –) fe i lün (. . –)
      fâ i lün (– . –) fe û lün (. – –) mef’ û lü (– – .) fe i lâ tün (. . – –)
      fâ i lâ tün (– . – –) fâ i lâ tü (– . – .) me fâ i lün (. – . –) me fâ’ î lün (. – – –)
      me fâ î lü (. – – .) müf te i lün (– . . –) müs tef i lün (– – . –) mü te fâ i lün (. . – . –)

These individual poetic feet are then combined in a number of different ways, most often with four feet per line, so as to give the poetic meter for a line of verse. Some of the most commonly used meters are the following:

  • me fâ’ î lün / me fâ’ î lün / me fâ’ î lün / me fâ’ î lün
    . – – – / . – – – / . – – – / . – – –
      Ezelden şāh-ı ‘aşḳuñ bende-i fermānıyüz cānā
Maḥabbet mülkinüñ sulţān-ı ‘ālī-şānıyüz cānā
Oh beloved, since the origin we have been the slaves of the shah of love
Oh beloved, we are the famed sultan of the heart's domain[11]
—Bâkî (1526–1600)
  • me fâ i lün / fe i lâ tün / me fâ i lün / fe i lün
    . – . – / . . – – / . – . – / . . –
      Ḥaţā’ o nerkis-i ÅŸehlādadır sözümde degil
Egerçi her süḥanim bī-bedel beġendiremem
Though I may fail to please with my matchless verse
The fault lies in those languid eyes and not my words
—Şeyh Gâlib (1757–1799)
  • fâ i lâ tün / fâ i lâ tün / fâ i lâ tün / fâ i lün
    – . – – / – . – – / – . – – / – . –
      Bir ÅŸeker ḥand ile bezm-i ÅŸevÄ·a cām ettiñ beni
NÄ«m á¹£un peymāneyi sāḳī tamām ettiñ beni
At the gathering of desire you made me a wine-cup with your sugar smile
Oh saki, give me only half a cup of wine, you've made me drunk enough[12]
—Nedîm (1681?–1730)
  • fe i lâ tün / fe i lâ tün / fe i lâ tün / fe i lün
    . . – – / . . – – / . . – – / . . –
      Men ne ḥācet ki ḳılam derd-i dilüm yāra ‘ayān
Ḳamu derd-i dilümi yār bilübdür bilübem
What use in revealing my sickness of heart to my love
I know my love knows the whole of my sickness of heart
—Fuzûlî (1483?–1556)
  • mef’ û lü / me fâ î lü / me fâ î lü / fâ û lün
    – – . / . – – . / . – – . / – – .
      Åževḳuz ki dem-i bülbül-i ÅŸeydāda nihānuz
Ḥūnuz ki dil-i ġonçe-i ḥamrāda nihānuz
We are desire hidden in the love-crazed call of the nightingale
We are blood hidden in the crimson heart of the unbloomed rose[13]
—Neşâtî (?–1674)

Brazilian PortugueseEdit

Meters were extensively explored in Brazilian literature, notably during Parnassianism. The most notable ones were:

  • Redondilha menor: composed of 5 syllables.
  • Redondilha maior: composed of 7 syllables.
  • Heroic (heróico): stresses on the sixth and tenth syllables.
  • Sapphic (sáfico): stresses on the fourth, eighth and tenth syllables.
  • Martelo: stresses on the third, sixth and tenth syllables.
  • Gaita galega or moinheira: stresses on the fourth, seventh and tenth syllables.
  • Barbarian (bárbaro): composed of 13 or more syllables.
  • Lucasian (lucasiano): composed of 16 feet, divided into two hemistiches of 8 syllables each.

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