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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:

da DUM

Using the 'ictus and x' notation (see systems of scansion for a full discussion of various notations) we can write this as:


The word 'attempt' is a natural iamb:

at- tempt

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. 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


'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

See also

Anapaestbg:Ямб cs:Jamb da:Jambe de:Jambus es:Yambo eo:Jambo gl:Iambo it:Giambo lv:Jambs hu:Jambus nl:Jambe no:Jambe pl:Jamb ro:Iamb ru:Ямб sk:Jamb sv:Jamb uk:Ямб

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