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Types of Meters in Poetry

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

A meter in writing is a rhythm of accented and unaccented syllables organized into "feet" which are also known as patterns.

Feet are best described as a pattern of syllables put together in a way to maintain rhythm throughout a work of art. Most poems contain two or three syllables per foot. Nonetheless, some authors may begin or end a line with a "hanging syllable"--a foot missing a syllable.

An accented syllable is simply a stressed syllable (or long syllable). Mostly, the accent depends on the rhythm of the poem.

Read about how these meters are used in different poetry forms.

The most well-known meter structure in poetry is the iambic-pentameter. The first word, "iamb" describes the type of foot used within the meter and the second word "pentameter" describes how many of the meters there are per line. In this instance, "iamb" means two feet with one being unaccented while the other accented. "Pentameter" means that there are five meters. Together, this means that there are ten total syllables per line.

Disyllables

Pyrrhus
A foot including two unaccented syllables, generally used to vary rhythm. Also known as dibrach.
Spondee
A foot consisting of two accented syllables. Example: heartbreak.
Iamb
A foot which starts with an unaccented and ends with an accented (stressed) syllable. It is the most common meter in the English language and naturally falls into everyday conversation. An example is "To be or not to be" (the accented syllables are italicized) from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Trochee
The opposite of an iambic meter. It begins with an accented then followed by an unaccented syllable. Also known as choree (or choreus). An example is the line "Doule, doule, toil and trouble." from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Trisyllables

Tribrach
A foot with three unaccented syllables.
Amphibrach
A foot with unaccent, accent, unaccent.
Bacchius
Unaccent followed by two accents.
Antibacchius
The opposite of a bacchius. Two accents followed by an accent.
Cretic
Accent, unaccent, then accented syllable. Also known as amphimacer.
Molossus
Three accented syllables in a row.
Anapest
A foot which has two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. Also known as antidactylus. Example: "I arise and unbuild it again" from Shelley's Cloud.
Dactyl
A foot including an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables. Example: openly.

As well, meters are named for the number of feet; monometer: one foot, dimeter: two feet, trimeter: three feet, tetrameter: four feet, pentameter: five feet, hexameter: six feet, heptameter: seven feet.