Foot (prosody)

The foot is the basic metrical unit that forms part of a line of verse in most Western traditions of poetry, including English accentual-syllabic verse and the quantitative meter of classical ancient Greek and Latin poetry. The unit is composed of syllables, the number of which is limited, with a few variations, by the sound pattern the foot represents. The most common feet in English are the iamb, trochee, dactyl, and anapest.[1] Contrasting with stress-timed languages such as English, in syllable-timed languages such as French, a foot is a single syllable.

The lines of verse are classified according to the number of feet they contain, e.g. pentameter. However some lines of verse are not considered to be made up of feet, e.g. hendecasyllable.

The English word "foot" is a translation of the Latin term pes, plural pedes. The foot might be compared to a bar in musical notation.

The foot is a purely metrical unit; there is no inherent relation to a word or phrase as a unit of meaning or syntax, though the interplay between these is an aspect of the poet's skill and artistry.

Classical meter

Below are listed the names given to the poetic feet by classical metrics. The feet are classified first by the number of syllables in the foot (disyllables have two, trisyllables three, and tetrasyllables four) and secondarily by the pattern of vowel lengths (in classical languages) or syllable stresses (in English poetry) which they comprise.

The following lists describe the feet in terms of vowel length (as in classical languages). Translated into syllable stresses (as in English poetry), 'long' becomes 'stressed' ('accented'), and 'short' becomes 'unstressed' ('unaccented'). For example, an iamb, which is short-long in classical meter, becomes unstressed-stressed, as in the English word "betray".[2]


Macron and breve notation: = stressed/long syllable, = unstressed/short syllable

pyrrhus, dibrach
iamb (or iambus or jambus)
trochee, choree (or choreus)


anapest, antidactylus
cretic, amphimacer


˘ ˘ ˘ ˘ tetrabrach, proceleusmatic
¯ ˘ ˘ ˘ primus paeon
˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ secundus paeon
˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ tertius paeon
˘ ˘ ˘ ¯ quartus paeon
¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ major ionic, double trochee
˘ ˘ ¯ ¯ minor ionic, double iamb
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ditrochee
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ diiamb
¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ choriamb
˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ antispast
˘ ¯ ¯ ¯ first epitrite
¯ ˘ ¯ ¯ second epitrite
¯ ¯ ˘ ¯ third epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ fourth epitrite
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ dispondee

See also


  1. Baldick, Chris (2008). The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923891-0.
  2. Howatson, M. C., ed. (1976). The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866121-5.

External links

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