The hatchet iambic pentameter sounds choose it’s more at house in a science textbook than it is in her English class. But think it or not, iambic pentameter is a form of poetic meter!

In other words, iambic pentameter is a hatchet that refers to a very specific form of rhythm that you find in poetry.

Knowing what poetic meter is and how to find it is vital skill for the AP literary works exam, and also it have the right to be really outstanding if you comment on it properly in the AP exam’s essay portion. We recognize poetic meter could sound scary—heck, anything that has to do with poetry have the right to be scary!—but we’re below to help. In this article, you’ll find out what iambic pentameter is, find how tofind it in a poem, and also analyzeiambic pentameter instances in poetry.

Let’s dive best in!


"Penta" means "five," so you know there will certainly be five of miscellaneous in iambic pentameter. (Spoiler alert: it needs to do through the variety of iambs in every line!)

Iambic Pentameter: definition and Meaning

To understand iambic pentameter, it’s easiest to break the phrase down into two parts.

You are watching: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is called

Part 1: Pentameter

Let’s begin with pentameter. In poetry, meter is the sample of stressed and also unstressed valuation in a verse, or line, that a poem.

Whew! That’s already a lot! let’s unpack that a tiny bit. A valuation is the number of vowel sounds that are existing in a word. Consonant sounds don’t matter! The more vowel sound a indigenous has, the an ext syllables the has! (Quick refresher: vowels room a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.) So because that example, “question” has actually two syllables, “flexible” has actually three syllables, and also “do” has actually one syllable.

Don’t make the wrong of thinking long words have to have more syllables than short words! Syllabation has everything to carry out with the vowel sounds a word has, not the number of letters. For example, words “screeched” only has one syllable whereas “utopia” has actually four!

But poetic meter is much more than just the variety of syllables in a verse: it’s the pattern of stressed and also unstressed syllables. For this reason what renders a syllable stressed or unstressed? Well, we’re glad you asked!

A emphasize syllable is a syllable that has 5 tests all on the very same day. (Just kidding...but us couldn’t stand up to a dad joke.) yet seriously, a emphasize syllable is a syllable it is emphasized in ~ a word. It’s the syllable the stands out, and it frequently has a long vowel sound.

Let’s look at a couple of words to view what us mean. Take “meter,” because that example. Meter has actually two syllables, and also the very first one is stressed. However when you to speak “meter,” you pronounce it ME-ter, no me-TER. That’s since the very first syllable is stressed. That provides the second syllable—or the one that doesn’t have actually emphasis—unstressed. Another example is “computer.” In this word, only the center syllable is stressed. You pronounce it com-PU-ter, not COM-pu-ter or com-pu-TER.

Not all words have actually stressed syllables! because that example, “homemade” has actually two unpled syllables. (It would sound silly to say HOME-made or home-MADE.)

Although over there are facility ways to recognize stressed and unstressed syllables, the easiest means to identify the stressed and unstressed rate in a heat of city is to check out the verse out loud. You will do it definitely be able to hear if you’re pronouncing a word funny! (In our favourite clip indigenous the movie A watch from the Top, Mike Meyers displayed this perfectly.)

But what provides a poem have actually pentameter specifically? Well, a poem v pentameter has five stressed valuation in a line. Here’s an example of a line with pentameter native Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.” The line reads, “Sometime too hot the eye of sky shines.” Okay, for this reason let’s rest this heat up right into syllables by using hyphens instead. If we count the rate in this line, we end up through 10, and also the line would look prefer this:

Now let’s look at the emphasize syllables. In this line, every other syllable is stressed. So once you review it out loud, the sounds like this:

That way the heat has 5 stressed syllables, i m sorry tells us that this verse provides pentameter. (And because we understand this is a shak spa sonnet, we also know that the whole poem will certainly be in pentameter.)

When every one of a poem’s lines have the same variety of stressed syllables, us say the the poem has actually meter. Poems have the right to have every kinds that meter. Poems whereby lines have six stressed syllables in each line room written in “hexameter,” and a city with 3 stressed syllables in every line would certainly be in “triameter.” In the case of a poem through pentameter, every solitary line the the poem will certainly have 5 stressed valuation in part combination.

Did you recognize that poetry has actually feet? METRICAL feet, that is!

Part 2: Iambs

Now let’s tackle the “iambic” component of iambic pentameter. An iamb is a form of metrical foot in poetry. (A metrical foot is a mix of stressed and unstressed syllables the repeats itself throughout a verse, stanza, or poem.)

An iamb is a really specific form of metrical foot that has actually one unrelated syllable adhered to by a stressed syllable. In order to number this out, it’s ideal to check out the poem out loud. You can underline each component of the word that is a emphasize syllable, i m sorry will enable you to visualize the pattern. (There space actual, formal marks the linguists and also literature scholars usage to indicate rhythm and also meter, which friend can discover here if you interested.)

Here’s a line from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 37”: “And by a part of every thy glory live.” Let’s walk ahead and break it into its stressed and also unstressed syllables, which looks something prefer this:

See just how the stresses alternating with unstressed valuation perfectly? every pair the unstressed and stressed syllables—like “and/by” and also “of/all”—is an iamb. Because each line the this poem uses this alternative structure the unstressed and also stressed syllables, we would say that the city iambic.

Randall Munroe/xkcd

Putting that Together: Iambic Pentameter

So currently let’s put every one of our new knowledge together. If one iamb is a mix of syllables, and also meter is a certain number of stressed syllables, then iambic pentameter is a certain arrangement the stressed and unstressed syllables. In iambic pentameter, each line of the poem has to have 5 iambs!

To see this at work, let’s look at an additional line native a shak spa sonnet, this time from “Sonnet 104.” The heat reads, “Have from the woodlands shook 3 summers" pride.”

First, let’s break the heat down into its syllables using hyphens:

Because this line has five feet the each save an unpled syllable adhered to by a emphasize syllable, we know that it’s a verse composed in iambic pentameter. When the totality poem is written through the exact same rhythm, we deserve to say the the poem has iambic pentameter, too!

Iambic pentameter is a renowned poetic form, especially in English poetry. Many people think the it together the “standard” poetic meter, likely due to the fact that Shakespeare’s sonnets room all written in iambic pentameter. However some modern poets, favor Wallace Stevens and also John Keats, use iambic pentameter, too.


Iambic Pentameter in Poetry: “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

Now that you know what iambic pentameter is, let’s test the end your new skills v a poem that wasn’t created by Shakespeare! Let’s take a look at a couple of stanzas from “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke, one of the most renowned poets of the 20th century, which is a an excellent iambic pentameter example. The 2nd stanza reads:

We think through feeling. What is over there to know?

I listen my being dance indigenous ear to ear. I wake to sleep, and also take mine waking slow.

Okay, try doing this one on your own. Copy and paste this stanza into your indigenous processor and also see if you deserve to break each line right into syllables. climate capitalize the stressed syllables. As soon as that’s done, put a forward cut in between each metrical foot.

Once you done, examine out the correct meter in the box below:

we THINK / by fee / ling. WHAT/ is over there / come KNOW?

i listen / my be / ing run / native EAR / to EARi wake / come SLEEP / and TAKE / mine WAK /ing SLOW

See the sample of iambs (an unstressed complied with by a stressed syllable)? since each line has five iambs, you recognize the city is created in iambic pentameter!

Let’s try another iambic pentameter example from the exact same poem. here’s the stanza:

Great Nature has another thing to carry out

To you and also me; so take it the vivid air, And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

Do the very same thing: different the valuation by a hyphen, then go earlier and capitalize every syllable the you think is stressed. This is the finished mark-up:

great NA / ture has / a-NO / ther point / to DO

to friend / and also ME; / so take / the LIVE / ly AIR, and, LOVE / ly, find out / by walk / ing wherein / to GO.

Did you get it? We’re sure you did now that you an iambic pentameter expert!

If you desire some an ext practice working through iambic pentameter examples, you canrepeatthis exercise on almost all of Shakespeare"s sonnets. (Hey...maybe girlfriend can uncover the ones the aren’t exactly in iambic pentameter, too!) You deserve to find all of Shakespeare"s sonnets courtesy that OpenSource Shakespeare.


Now What?

If this write-up was helpful and you want come learn an ext about just how to analysis literature and poetry, check out ours step-by-step evaluation of Tom Buchanan native The great Gatsby.

Studying because that the AP literature exam already? Here’s the can be fried AP literary works reading list the will assist you ace her AP exam.

See more: Which Artery Should Be Used To Check The Pulse Of An Unconscious Victim?

There room two AP English tests: the AP literature exam and the AP Language & composition exam. Learn an ext about the AP Language & composition test and also how it different from that literary indistinguishable here.