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How to Count Syllables in Poetry


Syllables are units of sound that construct words. These units provide the basic framework for poetry. The rhythm and flow of a poem depend upon the numbers and groupings of the syllables contained in each line. If you enjoy writing poetry, you can improve upon the structure of your poems by counting syllables and making additions and subtractions if necessary. The process of counting syllables in poetry consists of counting specific types of letter and sound combinations.

Isolate the first line of your poem.

Count the number of vowels in the first word of your poem. Vowels consist of the letters a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.

Subtract 1 from the number of vowels for every silent vowel. For example, if you have the word "make," you would count the two vowels "a" and "e." Then you would subtract 1 from 2 since the "e" is silent in this word.

Subtract 1 from your previous total if the first word has any double vowels that make a single sound. For example, the word "shoot" has the letter "o" twice, but the vowels make a singular sound. Therefore, this total would be 1.

Take away 1 from your total if any diphthongs are present in the word. A diphthong is a pair of vowels that make one sound. For instance, the word "flour" has two vowels, but the "o" and the "u" make one sound so the total would be 1.

Repeat this procedure for the rest of the words on the first line. Add the total syllables to find the syllable total for the line.

Repeat this process for the following lines of the poem. Many poems feature patterns of syllable totals within their lines. For instance, you might have a five-line poem in which the first, second and fifth lines have 12 syllables, and the third and fourth lines have six syllables each. Make adjustments to your content if you need to add or subtract syllables.

Tip
  • Once you get used to counting syllables, you may be able to do it more quickly and efficiently by simply clapping as you read a line aloud. If you clap the rhythm of the poem as you read, you should be able to distinguish syllables according to your claps.
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Charlotte Johnson is a musician, teacher and writer with a master's degree in education. She has contributed to a variety of websites, specializing in health, education, the arts, home and garden, animals and parenting.

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