What Is an Iamb?

An iamb is a metrical foot that consists of two syllables, the first one unstressed, the second one stressed. Iambs are the most common unit of meter in the English language, mirroring natural speech patterns of early English speakers. There are several fixed meters composed entirely of iambs:

  • Iambic Trimeter, a line of verse with three iambic feet, was used in ancient Greek drama.
  • Iambic Tetrameter is a line with four iambic feet.
  • Iambic Pentameter, a line of verse with five iambic feet, was particular prevalent during the Renaissance. Shakespeare wrote his famous sonnets using iambic pentameter. The British Romantic poets, Keats and Wordsworth in particular, wrote in iambic pentameter as well.
  • Iambic Hexameter is a line composed of six iambic feet, or 12 syllables. This verse form is also known the Alexandrine.
  • Common meter, or ballad verse, is composed of alternating lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.

Examples of Iamb

Iamb Example 1. “Because I could not stop for death —

He kindly stopped for me —

The Carriage held but just Ourselves —

And immortality.”

The first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem is in common meter.

Iamb Example 2. The Way We Were is one of many film titles written in iambs.

Iamb Example 3.  “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” begins Shakespeares Sonnet 18, written in iambic pentameter.

Iamb Example 4. “And did those feet in ancient time” is the iambic first line of William Blake’s poem, “Milton,” which is written in tetrameter.

Iamb Example 5. “A diamond is forever,” the DeBeers slogan, is written in iambic trimeter.


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