What is Iambic Pentameter?

 – Iambic Pentameter –

Have you tried reading or explaining Iambic pentameter to a colleague in college or high school but could not due to your limited knowledge of the term? Do not be concerned, this article is about that.

Iambic Pentameter

If you’ve read any of Shakespeare’s sonnets, you’ve probably heard of iambic pentameter… but what exactly is it?

Understanding Iambic Pentameter

When we speak, syllables are either stressed (given more emphasis) or unstressed (weaker emphasis). The word “remark,” for example, has two syllables. The unstressed syllable “re” has a weaker emphasis, whereas “mark” is stressed and has a stronger emphasis.

A foot is a group of two or three syllables used in poetry. An iamb is a specific type of foot. The word remark is an iamb because it consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

A line of iambic pentameter is composed of five iambs – five sets of unstressed and stressed syllables.


What is Iambic Pentameter?

It is made up of two words: pentameter, which is a combination of the words ‘pent,’ which means five, and meter,’ which means to measure.

In poetry, iambic is a metrical foot in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. Iambic pentameter is a beat or foot with 10 syllables in each line.

Simply put, it is a rhythmic pattern with five iambs in each line, similar to five heartbeats.

One of the most common meters in English poetry is iambic pentameter.

For instance, in the excerpt, “When I see birches bend to left and right/Across the line of straighter darker Trees…” (Birches, by Robert Frost), each line contains five feet, and each foot uses one iamb.

Iambic Pentameter Examples

Here are three very different examples of iambic pentameter in English poetry:

Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 starts ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’. This line of poetry has five feet, so it’s written in pentameter.

And the stressing pattern is all iambs (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable):

Shall I   | compARE |  thee TO  |  a SUM  | mers DAY?
da DUM |   da DUM   | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM

Function of Iambic Pentameter

It is a common form of poetry and verse.

Many Elizabethan dramatists, including John Donne and William Shakespeare, used this form in their poems and poetic plays to maintain the language’s decorum and grandeur.

It is also used by contemporary authors to write serious poems. Its primary function is thus to provide a less rigid, but more natural flow to the text.

This form also allows for intonation and pace of language, allowing an underlying meter to have an impact on readers.

Why Do Poets Use Iambic Pentameter?

It is commonly used in verse, poetry, and even pop songs.

This rhythm was popularized by Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists like Shakespeare and John Donne, and it is still used by modern authors today (read sonnet examples from other poets – some use it and some use other meters).

Iambic pentameter is an ear-pleasing rhythm that closely resembles the rhythm of everyday speech or a heartbeat.

It allows playwrights to mimic everyday speech in verse. The rhythm gives the text – and the dialogue – a less rigid, but more natural flow.

Simply put, it is a natural metrical speech rhythm in the English language.

Shakespeare used it because it closely resembles the rhythm of everyday speech, and he undoubtedly wanted his plays to imitate everyday speech.


In conclusion, Iambic pentameter is marked by the occurrence of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. We believe the above piece of information was useful.

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