Trochaic Pentameter

troh-kee-ik pen-tam-uh-ter

Trochaic pentameter is an uncommon form of meter. It refers to lines of verse that contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second is unstressed. 

E.g. "O, how I wish I had the strength to fly!" where bold beats are stressed and underlined are unstressed.

This metrical pattern can be used in songs, poems, and plays. But, it is usually overlooked for its more useful variations. For example, iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter. This doesn’t mean that the meter is never used, just that it is more commonly utilized in single or individual lines rather than throughout an entire poem. If written out with sounds, trochaic pentameter would look like: 

DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM de

Trochaic Pentameter Definition and Examples

Trochaic Pentameter Definition

The term “trochaic pentameter” refers to a type of meter in poetry. A line that uses this meter contains a total of ten syllables. These ten syllables can be separated into groups of two. These are known as metrical feet. The first syllable on each foot is stressed or accented. The second syllable is unstressed, or unaccented.

Trochees and iambs are the two most commonly used types of metrical feet. But, they are more often used with tetrameter and pentameter, respectively. Below, readers can explore an example of how authors do use trochaic pentameter and decide for themselves how the meter influences the verse

Example of Trochaic Pentameter 

King Lear by William Shakespeare 

King Lear is one of William Shakespeare’s best tragedies. It is based on the life of a mythological leader of Britain, King Lear. At the beginning of the play, the King gives over his power and land two of his daughters. As the play progresses, these daughters turn on him and utilize his resources against him. The first known performance of this play was on December 26th, 1606, on St. Stephen’s Day. Here are the final lines from this commonly-read play: 

And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,

and thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,

never, never, never, never, never!

Here, readers can find a great example of how Shakespeare switches from his more commonly used iambic pentameter to trochaic pentameter. The last line of this four-line excerpt is written in trochaic pentameter. Here it is again with the stresses bolded: 

never, never, never, never, never!

This is a simple example, but it is effective. It helps change the emphasis in these last lines and makes sure that readers, or anyone in the audience, understand how powerful the ending of the play is meant to be. 

Read William Shakespeare’s poetry


What is the purpose of trochaic pentameter? 

This rarely used metrical pattern is utilized for a few different reasons. First, the trochee is known as a “falling” foot. This is due to the fact that the first syllable is stressed and the second is unstressed. Depending on how the poet uses it, it can sound depressing or upbeat. More commonly, a poet will use this kind of meter in order to create a contrast against their normal metrical pattern. For example, the rest of the poem might be written in trochaic tetrameter or in iambic pentameter. Then, when the pattern changes, those particular lines in trochaic pentameter stick out. 

What is an example of trochaic pentameter? 

There are very few examples of trochaic pentameter in poetry. But, one of the best-known comes from William Shakespeare’s King Lear. It can be found in the last line of the play in which Lear is repeating the word “Never” five times. The stress is clearly on “ne” with ”-ver” unstressed. Its impact comes from its contrast against the previous lines of iambic pentameter.

What are the types of meter in poetry?

There are many different types of meter in poetry. Depending on how an author decides to arrange metrical feet and how many they choose to use, a poem might be written in trochaic pentameter, iambic pentameter, dactylic pentameter, trochaic tetrameter, iambic trimeter, or another form. A poet might also use a combination of multiple meters within their work. 

What is a metrical foot? 

In poetry, a metrical foot refers to a grouping of syllables. This could be two or three syllables, but the former is more likely. Within an iambic foot, the first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed. Within a trochaic foot, the arrangement of the stresses is switched. 

How do you identify trochaic meter?

To find out if a line is written in trochaic meter, readers should analyze a few lines of the text and consider where the most important syllables fall. Are they first or second in each metrical foot? If the poem sounds like “DUH-duh,” it is made up of trochees; if it sounds like “duh-DUH,” it is made up of iambs. The word “never” is an example of a trochee and the word “belong” is an example of an iamb. (Reading the lines out loud is also helpful.) 

  • Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
  • Anapest: three-syllable sections of verse, or words. An anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed.
  • Iamb: a metrical unit. 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.
  • Alliterative Meter: a type of verse that focuses on alliteration as a way of creating a metrical structure. Alliteration is used rather than accents or rhymes.
  • Dimeter: a specific arrangement of syllables in poetry. If a poem is written in dimeter, that means that the lines contain four syllables each.
  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Iambic Dimeter: a type of meter used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses two iambs per line of verse.
  • Meter: the pattern of beats in a line of poetry. It is a combination of the number of beats and arrangement of stresses.

Other Resources 

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