I need help identifying and using iambs in poetry.This is quite embrassing, but I am having so much trouble comprehending what an iamb is. I have an assignment to complete by Wednesday, and am at a...

I need help identifying and using iambs in poetry.

This is quite embrassing, but I am having so much trouble comprehending what an iamb is. I have an assignment to complete by Wednesday, and am at a stump do to my inability to comprehend this term. I have been researching for hours, and am no closer to understanding it. Can someone please give me an elementary school definition of an iamb and help complete my assignment?

Here is what the assignment calls for -

Take a paragraph you’ve written (at least 250 words long) and rewrite it so that it’s entirely in iambs. 

If this is the beginning of my paragraph, how can it be written as an iamb and why?

Matthew loved the coffee shop, but he hated coffee. Caffeine made him sick. He wished he could order a diet coke, but no one went to a coffee shop for a coke. So he learned how to guzzle the coffee down. His original plan was to drink it black because he was fond of the motorcyclists who wandered in occasionally, straddling the stools at the counter and ordering their coffee black - tough and hard - as if asking someone to punch them. Matthew wanted to be like them, but black coffee was disgusting; he might as well have been drinking river pollution.


Asked on by sammyk

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afi80fl's profile pic

afi80fl | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted on

No, it's not embarrassing at all; in fact, it's something that most of my students have a difficult time comprehending.  Afterwards, most of them wonder why anyone would put that much attention into their structure! 

So, here's a brief rundown on iambic form.  An iamb is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.  These are usually linked together, such as in Iambic pentameter, which is where each line has five distinct iambs (often used by Shakespeare).  Here's an example:

My horse my horse my kingdom for a horse. 

Notice that the emphasis is on syllables, not necessarily words.  You can do this on your own, too, if you concentrate on making an even number of syllables per line, or in the case of a paragraph, sentence.  Like this:

It's not too hard to write this way as long as you don't lose your count.

I hope this helps... it's tricky, but once you figure out that it's just an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, you'll be on your way.  Use a "u" symbol above the unstressed syllable and an "/" symbol above the stressed syllable to mark your stresses when writing it out.

Best of luck!

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The rhythm is "ta-DA!" or ta DUM ta DUM ta DUM ta DUM.  When you read the lines aloud, you will eventually be able to recognize the natural stress on the syllables in a line.  The post above gives lots of great examples.

Say this word out loud:  "attempt".  Listen for the natural stress of the two syllables.  If you listen carefully, you will recognize that you pronounce it as at/TEMPT.  This word is an iamb.  One unstressed and one stressed syllable.

The word "content" is the same way.  con/TENT is an iamb.

Try it on the line below:

To be|or not|to be,|that is|the ques-tion

Mark the syllables--unstressed will be marked with a "u" symbol and stressed ones will be indicated by the "/" symbol.  Say it aloud as you would normally speak the words and listen for where the stress lands.

Good Luck!



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