A foot is the basis of meter:
that is, the regular unit of rhythm
which, when repeated, makes up a verse. Although the basis of meter in the
classical languages was
"quantitative" i.e., "long" and "short" syllables were based
on the actual amount of time it took to speak the syllables
and some English poets made experiments in this direction,
virtually all English feet are based on a pattern of
stressed and unstressed syllables. Still, the
terms are usually imported from Greek and Latin versification,
and you may hear "long" and "short" where "stressed" and
"unstressed" are meant.
Each common foot comprises two or three syllables: either one or
two stressed syllables, and zero, one, or two unstressed
syllables. The common feet in English:
Meter is usually described by giving both the kind of feet
(above) and the number in each verse. The basic meters are:
Although in most kinds of English verse one type of foot
predominates in each line, substitutions are possible.
- One foot: monometer (accent on
the first and third syllables: MAH-no-MEE-ter)
- Two feet: dimeter (accent on the
first syllable, which sounds like "dim")
- Three feet: trimeter (accent on
the first syllable, which sounds like "trim")
- Four feet: tetrameter (accent
on second syllable)
- Five feet: pentameter (accent
on the second syllable)
- Six feet: hexameter (accent on
the second syllable)
From the Guide to Literary Terms by Jack Lynch.
Please send comments to Jack Lynch.
Note: This guide is still in the early stages of development.
Three question marks mean I have to write more on the subject. Bear with me.