Foot =  The smallest possible metrical component, which always contains one beat.

Iamb = A metrical unit, or foot, comprised of an unstressed non-beat syllable followed by a stressed beat syllable: di-dum

Pentameter = Verse written in lines comprised of five feet (‘penta-‘ means five); so iambic pentameter is written in lines of five iambs:-

di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum

Feminine ending An extra-metrical syllable running over the very end of the line:-

di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum-di

Epic caesura = A mid-line feminine ending, which can only be placed before a line break:-

di-dum, di-dum, di-dum-di, | di-dum, di-dum

Only ever used in dramatic verse.

Balanced Line = A line where the middle beat is unstressed:-

di-dum, di-dum, di-di-di-dum, di-dum

Golden Line = A line where the 2nd and 4th beats (either side of the middle beat) are unstressed:-

di-dum, di-di-di-dum, di-di-di-dum

Iambic & trochaic rhythm (aka ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ rhythm) = Iambic rhythm goes ‘di-dum, di-dum, di-dum…’. Trochaic rhythm goes ‘dum-di, dum-di, dum-di…’ (iambic = a rising rhythm; trochaic =  a falling rhythm). So desire’ is an iambic word, and ‘fairest’ is a trochaic word. Within iambic verse, trochaic words and phrases often span the foot divisions. Read the beginning of Part 3 for more detail.

Spondee = A spondee is a modified iamb: the 2nd syllable is still the beat syllable, but the 1st syllable is also given a full stress, so instead of ‘di-dum’, we get ‘dumdum’.

Pyrrhic = A pyrrhic is also a modified iamb! Again, the 2nd syllable is still the beat syllable, but this time the beat syllable is unstressed, so instead of ‘di-dum’, we get ‘di-di’.

Appended pyrrhic = A pyrrhic at the end of a word, such as ‘ornament’ (dum-di-di). The last two syllables, if they are contained within a foot, form an appended pyrrhic.

4-syllable figure = Any metrical pattern formed when two ‘feet’ combine (with the sole exception of the ‘minor ionic’, which cannot be broken down into individual feet). There are a total of six 4-syllable figures.

6-syllable figure = Any metrical pattern formed when a ‘spondee’ combines with a 4-syllable figure! Because of it’s brick-like, self-sufficient quality, the spondee is the only foot that can attach itself to a 4-syllable figure to create an even larger figure. There are a total of five 6-syllable figures, though I only mention three of them in my posts: the ‘paeon-spondee’ & ‘spondee-paeon’ because of the frequency of their occurrence, and the ‘spondee + minor ionic’ because of it’s particularly striking quality. The two remaining 6-syllable figures are:-

Spondee + 1st epitrite:- dumdum-di-dumdumdum (dumdum + di-dumdumdum) to form a pattern containing five stresses within six syllables!

Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight

Yet doth it steal sweet hours | from love’s | delight

Choriamb-spondee:- dum-di-di-dumdumdum (dum-di-di-dum dumdum)

Good nightgood night. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Good night, | good night. | Parting is such sweet sorrow
(In this example the figure has a feminine ending)

This figure has the effect of containing an overlap between a choriamb and a 1st epitrite! ‘Parting is such…’ forms a choriamb, but ‘…is such sweet so(rrow)’ forms a 1st epitrite! (For explanations of the choriamb and 1st epitite, see the definitions listed below).

Isolated spondee = A spondee that does not combine with an adjacent foot to form a metrical figure. Again because of it’s brick-like, self-sufficient quality, the spondee is the only variant foot which doesn’t automatically combine with other feet to form a larger figure (it is due to these same qualities that the spondee is the only foot that can attach to a 4-syllable figure to form a larger 6-syllable figure!).

4th paeon (or ‘paeon’ for short) = A metrical figure comprised of a pyrrhic followed by an iamb: di-di-di-dum (di-di + di-dum). There is often a slight stress on the 2nd syllable. {A ‘paeon’ is any 4-syllable figure containing only one stress, and this is the 4th paeon because the 4th syllable is stressed. Other paeons are used in Greek and Latin verse, but not in English verse! This is why I frequently refer to this figure simply as a ‘paeon’.}

Paeon-spondee = a 6-syllable metrical figure comprised of a paeon followed by a spondee, to form the striking metrical pattern of three light syllables running into three heavy syllables: di-di-di-dumdumdum (di-di-di-dum + dumdum).

Spondee-paeon = a 6-syllable metrical figure comprised of a spondee followed by a paeon! This sets up an appealing contrast between a heavy, emphatic opening, followed by a swift release: dumdum-di-di-di-dum (dumdum + di-di-di-dum).

Trochee = An inverted iamb: instead of (di-dum), we have (dum-di). Unlike the spondee or the pyrrhic, which are created by adjusting the stress level of one syllable of the iamb, the trochee is created by swapping the stress level of both syllables. This creates a displaced beat: the beat has been pulled backwards, and now lands on the first syllable (I mark all feet and figures that contain a displaced beat in red).

Choriamb = A trochee (see above) followed by an iamb: dum-di-di-dum (dum-di + di-dum) – this is a swing from one post to the next! It is important not to linger excessively on the first syllable of the choriamb, otherwise you will break off that rhythmical swinging movement.

Choriamb-paeon = A combination of figures that lends great lift and energy to the line:-


Think of the opening to Richard III: ‘Now is the win | ter of our dis | content…’

Minor ionic =  A 4-syllable figure in which the first beat has been pushed forward one syllable: di-di-dumdum. If you compare two consecutive iambs (di-dum-di-dum), you can see that the first beat has been pushed forward a space by swapping the stress level of the 2nd and 3rd syllables. This figure cannot be broken down into individual feet.

Spondee + minor ionic = A 6-syllable metrical figure comprised of a spondee followed by a minor ionic, to form a very striking and robust pattern: dumdumdi-di-dumdum (dumdum + di-di-dumdum)

Epitrite = A 4-syllable figure which contains three stressed syllables.

2nd epitrite = A trochee followed by a spondee: dum-di-dumdum (dum-di + dumdum). The beat syllables are the first and last syllables.

1st epitrite = An iamb followed by a spondee: di-dumdumdum (di-dum + dumdum). There is often slightly less stress on the 3rd syllable.

3rd epitrite = A spondee followed by an iamb: dumdum-di-dum (dumdum + di-dum)

Separations = A separation can occur in Shakespeare’s work when one word begins with the same sound with which the previous word ended. In everyday speech, we normally allow the two words to share that sound, rather than make the same sound twice.  However, there is a theory that Shakespeare intended that in such instances the two words should be separated – that he intended that the actor should have to ‘pick out’ the words for expressive effect. In the example below, I have marked possible separations with a forward slash:-

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious / summer by this / son of York

Assonance = The repetition of vowel sounds, e.g. the repetition of the ‘igh/eye’ sound in ‘bright eyes’.

Consonance = The repetition of consonant sounds.

Alliteration = The most striking form of consonance: the repetition of consonants at the beginning of words, e.g. ‘self substantial’ (which also contains the consonance of the second ‘s’ of ‘substantial’).

Consonant cluster = Any occurrence of two or more consecutive consonants within a phrase. This can either be consecutive consonants within a word, such as ‘end‘, or it can be consecutive consonants in adjacent words, e.g. ‘run down the hill’ (compare the lack of any consonant cluster in ‘run over the hill’).

Phrasal junctures = I define any phrasal break within the line as a ‘phrasal juncture’ – ranging from the full break provided by a full stop, to the lighter break provided by a comma, to the lightest breaks in phrasing which are not indicated by any punctuation. Here are some examples from my posts of light breaks which are not punctuated:-

With his tinct        gilded thee

From ancient grudge        break to new mutiny

Within thine own bud        buriest thy content

From fairest creatures        we desire increase

And only herald        to the gaudy spring

Masculine & Lyric caesuras = A ‘masculine caesura’ is a break after an even syllable; a ‘lyric caesura’ is a break after an odd syllable.

Monosyllablc words = Any word containing only one syllable. Here are a couple of examples from my posts of lines consisting entirely of monosyllabic words:-

When do count the clock that tells the time

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee

Note the lyric caesura in the second example, breaking up the iambic rhythm.

In both these examples, the monosyllables create a slower, more emphatic pace.

Polysyllabic words = Any word containing more than one syllable (though words of two or three syllables may be referred to as disyllabic and trisyllabic respectively). This line contains one monosyllabic word, followed by two polysyllabic words (one of five syllables, and one of four):-

This supernatural soliciting

And here’s the line segmented into individual feet:-

This su | perna | tural | soli | citing

Not hard to see the difference between this and the monosyllabic lines in the previous entry! This line effectively conveys the frantic energy with which Macbeth has to think on his feet after his first encounter with the witches.

Deferred closures & trailing syllables = A ‘deferred closure’ is when the last syllable of a figure does not act as a resting point: instead, the momentum carries through to the next beat syllable. Any figure may have a deferred closure.

A ‘trailing syllable’ is when the first syllable of a figure is also the last syllable of the preceding phrase. Any figure that opens with a light syllable (4th paeon, minor ionic, 1st epitrite) may have a trailing syllable.

This example contains both a ‘deferred closure’ and a ‘trailing syllable’ (‘perfumed’ is pronounced as three syllables: the ‘ed’ is pronounced as a separate syllable):-

As the perfumed tincture of the roses

As the perfum | ed tinc | ture of the roses

The last syllable of the opening choriamb finishes on an adjective preceding a noun (‘perfumed’ is the adjective describing the ‘tincture’), so this last beat syllable does not act as resting point: instead the momentum carries through to the following noun:-

As the perfumed tincture…

This is an example of a ‘deferred closure’.

However, the last syllable of this phrase is also the first syllable of the 4th paeon which closes the line:-

…ture of the roses

The first syllable of this 4th paeon (‘…ture’) is a trailing syllable. In practice, most 4th paeons have a trailing syllable: it is usually a connecting figure. Probably around half of all minor ionics contain a trailing syllable. Trailing syllables within the 1st epitrite pattern are much rarer.


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