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Iambic Pentameter, Anapestic Tetrameter

Reference > Literature > Poetry > The Bard

Are those like kilometer and centimeter? Nope! They're not distances...they're ways of combining metrical feet into poetry lines of specific lengths.

Let's break these words down. Pentameter is a combination of "pent," which means "five," and "meter," which you already know from our page about metrical feet. So the word means "five metrical feet."

Similarly, since "tetra" means "four," "tetrameter" means "four metrical feet."

So now we take those words and combine them with words we already know, like "iambic" or "anapestic," and we get "iambic pentameter" and "anapestic tetrameter."

If you've been following us from the beginning of this series, you should be able to deduce that "iambic pentameter" means "lines made up of five iambs" and "anapestic tetrameter" means "lines made up of four anapests."

It turns out that anapestic tetrameter and iambic pentameter are two very commonly used meters in poetry.

Anapestic Tetrameter

It turns out that our beloved Christmas poem that we talked about in a previous article is not just anapestic -- it's anapestic tetrameter. Every line is made up of four anapests:

'twas the NIGHT be fore CHRIST mas and ALL through the HOUSE
not a CREA ture was STIRR ing not E ven a MOUSE.

Count the anapests, and you'll see that each line contains exactly four. If you read the entire poem, you will discover that this poem is -- from start to finish -- perfectly formed anapestic tetrameter.

Iambic Pentameter

Iambic pentameter is one of the most commonly used meters in poetry. Shakespeare used it regularly. Sonnets are written in iambic pentameter. Many other poets have used this meter as well. Here's a couple lines of Shakespeare for you to count.

when I do COUNT the CLOCK that TELLS the TIME,
and SEE the BRAVE day SUNK in HID eous NIGHT...

Count the iambs. Do you find five in each line?

Other Meters

Don't be fooled into thinking that all poetry falls into one of these two meters. Far from it! Pick any metrical foot and combine it with any length, and you've got a meter you could try to write in. Dactylic trimeter? Trochaic Hexameter? Amphibrachic Septameter? Well, why not?


What do you think "triameter" means?
What do you think would be the term for a line made up of eight anapests?
Write a line of anapestic tetrameter.
Write a line of iambic pentameter.
Which do you think is easier to write: iambic pentameter or anapestic tetrameter? Why?
Write a dactylic line, and then state what the meter is.
Assign this reference page
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More Metrical FeetMore Metrical Feet
Alliteration, Assonance, and RhymeAlliteration, Assonance, and Rhyme

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