Definition of Iambic Meter
Poets past and present have often written poems that follow one of a number of different regular meters, or consistent patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. One such type is iambic meter.
Each metric unit, or foot, in iambic meter is known as the iamb. An iambic foot is composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
Iambic feet can be strung along in a series. Four feet together is known as iambic tetrameter, as in the example "He works on writing Monday nights," which contains four stressed syllables: "works," "writ-," "Mon-" and "nights." The other four syllables are unstressed.
Iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line) that does not rhyme is also known as blank verse. Shakespeare wrote much of his work in iambic pentameter.
Other Types of Feet
Trochees are the inverse of iambs, with a stressed syllable, then an unstressed syllable. Anapests have groups of three syllables in the following pattern: unstressed, unstressed, stressed. Dactyls also have groups of three syllables: stressed, unstressed, unstressed.
Determining the metric pattern of a line of poetry by identifying the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables and counting the total number of feet is known as scanning.
Elisabeth Dahl is a freelance writer and copyeditor who has worked in publishing since 1991. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University, where she was a Writing Center Associate Fellow.