An iamb is a metrical foot. It occurs when two syllables are placed next to one another, and the first is unstressed or short, and the second is stressed or long.

Sometimes, these syllables are also described as unaccented and accented. When read out loud, iambic syllables sound like du-DUM.

Facts About Iambs

  • The iamb is the most common unit of meter in the English language.
  • It is fundamental to the history of English-language poetry.
  • An iamb can be stretched out over more than one word. For example, “A scream” and “too late,” in which the second word in a phrase is stressed.
  • Poets like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Emily Dickinson used iambs.
  • Iambs are commonly associated with iambic pentameter. These are lines that contain five iambs.
  • They can be paired with diameter, trimeter, tetrameter, and more.
  • Iambs create a steady rhythm that appeals to many poets.
  • They often sound musical.

Iambic Words

A few iambic words are:

  • Define
  • Attain
  • Perchance
  • Beneath
  • Upon

All of these examples have an unstressed first syllable and a stressed second syllable.

Iamb Example #1

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

This well-loved poem is a good example of how a poet uses iambs in their lines. The bulk of this poem is written in iambic pentameter. Here are the first lines:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The first two lines, with the stressed or accented syllables bolded, would look like:

wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er dales and hills.

In the second line, the word “o’er” was shortened so that it only has one syllable. This means that Wordsworth’s pattern remains consistent. When read out loud, iambs often have a song-like feeling. They can create a very steady beat, one of the features that have made them so popular with poets.

Iamb Example #2

Dust of Snowby Robert Frost

Unlike the previous example, ‘Dust of Snow’ is written in iambic dimeter. This means there are only two iambs per line rather than five. Consider how the iambs, and the short lines, work together in the following excerpt:

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

Every other word is accented in this excerpt. They are: “way,” “crow,” “down,” “me,” “dust,” and “snow.” The pattern continues for another line before it breaks, and Frost uses another kind of metrical foot.

Other Poems with Iambs to Explore