An iamb or iambus is a metrical foot used in various types of poetry. Originally the term referred to one of the feet of the quantitative meter of classical Greek prosody: a short syllable followed by a long syllable (as in i-amb). This terminology was adopted in the description of accentual-syllabic verse in English, where it refers to a foot comprising an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as in a-bove).

Accentual-syllabic use

In accentual-syllabic verse we could describe an iamb as a foot that goes like this:

Iambic pentameter is one of the most commonly used measures in English and German poetry. A line of iambic pentameter comprises five consecutive iambs.

Iambic trimeter is the metre of the spoken verses in Greek tragedy and comedy, comprising six iambs - as one iambic metrum consisted of two iambs. In English accentual-syllabic verse, iambic trimeter is a line comprising three iambs.

Another common iambic form is ballad verse, in which a line of iambic tetrameter is succeeded by a line of iambic trimeter, usually in quatrain form.

A. B. Paterson wrote much of his poetry in iambic heptameter (which is sometimes called the 'fourteener'), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" also conforms to this stress pattern (although it is usually written as though it were composed of lines alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter).

The reverse of an iamb is called a trochee.

Types of Meter


:Lo, thus I triumph like a king,:Content with that my mind doth bring. (Edward Dyer, "My Mind to Me A Kingdom Is")

:'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves:Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. (Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky")


:To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Alfred Tennyson, "Ulysses")

:Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

:A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! (William Shakespeare, Richard III)


:I s'pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark. (A. B. Paterson, The Man from Ironbark)

*Non-bold = unstressed syllable
*Bold = stressed syllable

ee also


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • iamb — IAMB, iambi, s.m. Picior de vers compus din două silabe, dintre care, în prozodia antică, prima este scurtă şi a doua lungă, iar în prozodia modernă, prima este neaccentuată, iar cea de a doua accentuată. – Din fr. iambe, lat. iambus. Trimis de… …   Dicționar Român

  • Iamb — I amb, n. [Cf. F. iambe. See {Lambus}.] An iambus or iambic. [R.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • iamb — (n.) 1842, from Fr. iambe (16c.), from L. iambus, from Gk. iambos (see IAMBIC (Cf. iambic)). Iambus itself was used in English in this sense in 1580s …   Etymology dictionary

  • iamb — [ī′amb΄, īam΄] n. [Fr iambe < L iambus < Gr iambos] a metrical foot consisting, in Greek and Latin verse, of one short syllable followed by one long one, or, as in English verse, of one unaccented syllable followed by one accented one (Ex …   English World dictionary

  • iamb — UK [ˈaɪæm] / US [ˈaɪˌæm] noun [countable] Word forms iamb : singular iamb plural iambuses literature a unit of rhythm in poetry, consisting of one short or weak beat followed by one long or strong beat, for example in the word mistake …   English dictionary

  • iamb — or iambus noun (plural iambs or iambuses) Etymology: Latin iambus, from Greek iambos Date: 1586 a metrical foot consisting of one short syllable followed by one long syllable or of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable (as in… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • iamb — /uy am, uy amb/, n. Pros. a foot of two syllables, a short followed by a long in quantitative meter, or an unstressed followed by a stressed in accentual meter, as in Come live / with me / and be / my love. [1835 45; short for IAMBUS] * * * ▪… …   Universalium

  • iamb — noun A metrical foot in verse consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable …   Wiktionary

  • iamb — s. m., pl. iambi …   Romanian orthography

  • iamb — i|amb [ˈaıæm US ˈaıæm, ˈaıæmb] n also i|am|bus [aıˈæmbəs] technical [Date: 1800 1900; : Latin; Origin: iambus, from Greek iambos] a unit of ↑rhythm in poetry, that has one short or weak beat followed by a long or strong beat, as in the word alive …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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