Copyright

Iambic Pentameter: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Character of Benvolio: Traits, Analysis & Profile

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Iambic Pentameter Definition
  • 0:42 Examples
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Iambic pentameter is a poetic device that has been used by famous writers for centuries. In this lesson, find out how to identify iambic pentameter in many of the poems and sonnets you have read.

Iambic Pentameter Definition

In a line of poetry, an iamb is a foot or beat consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, or a short syllable followed by a long syllable, according to FreeDictionary.com. An example is the word comPLETE. Interestingly enough, the iamb sounds a little like a heartbeat.

FreeDictionary.com defines pentameter as a line of verse consisting of five metrical feet. When put together, iambic pentameter may be defined as a line of verse consisting of five metrical feet where each foot consists of an unstressed syllable and a stressed syllable.

Examples

William Shakespeare was famous for using iambic pentameter in his sonnets. Here's one example from his Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Notice that the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in bold does not necessarily correspond to the number of words used. One must always listen for that heartbeat pattern 'du-DUH, du-DUH.' The unstressed syllable may start in one word and the stressed syllable may follow in a completely different word.

Also, we don't read lines of iambic pentameter in an unstressed/stressed pattern of vocal inflection. The line would sound very different if we read it that way, almost like an exaggerated Count Dracula saying, 'I've COME to DRINK your BLOOD.' Try reading the first line of Sonnet 18 with an exaggerated sense of unstressed and stressed syllables. It would look and sound like this: Shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer's DAY?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Free 5-day trial

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support