A foot is a basic measure or unit of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. It consists of a certain number or combination of syllables that form part of a line of a poem in some kind of pattern of accented and unaccented syllables. There are five commonly used sets of feet:
- iambic (iamb) - (e.g.) attain (unaccented/accented)
- trochaic (trochee) - (e.g.) highway (accented/unaccented)
- anapestic (anapest) - (e.g.) understand (unaccented/unaccented/accented)
- dactylic (dactyl) - (e.g.) elephant (accented/unaccented/unaccented)
- spondaic (spondee) - (e.g.) woodchuck (unaccented/accented)
In poetry, many meters use a foot as the basic unit in their description of the underlying rhythmic structure of a poem. Both the quantitative meter of classical poetry and the accentual-syllabic meter of most poetry in English use the foot as the fundamental building block.
A foot is further described by the character and number of syllables it contains. In English, feet are named for the combination of accented and unaccented syllables. In other languages such as Latin and Greek, the duration of the syllable (long or short) is measured.
When scanning a line of verse, a poet looks at feet as the primary rhythmic unit rather than words. A foot can consist of multiple words, and a single word can contain many feet. Furthermore, a foot can and often does bridge multiple words, including, for example, the last two syllables of one word and the first of the next.
To scan for feet, one should focus on the stream of sound alone and set aside the actual meaning of the words.
Types of Line Lengths in Poetry
One foot: Monometer
Two feet: Dimeter
Three feet: Trimeter
Four feet: Tetrameter
Five feet: Pentameter
Six feet: Hexameter
Seven feet: Heptameter
Eight feet: Octameter