Poetry Terms

A selection of terms for discussing poetry can be found below, and also on a downloadable PDF here: English Poetry Terms:


Accent – The prominence or emphasis given to a syllable or word. In the word poetry, the accent (or stress) falls on the first syllable.

Allegory – Allegory is a narrative having a second meaning beneath the surface one.

Alliteration – The repetition of the same or similar sounds at the beginning of words such as tongue twisters like ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’

Analogy – Analogy is a likeness or similarity between things that are otherwise unlike.

Anapaest – A metrical foot of three syllables, two short (or unstressed) followed by one long (or stressed). The anapaest is the opposite of the dactyl.

Antithesis – An example of antithesis is “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” by Alexander Pope is an example of antithesis with words and phrases with opposite meanings balanced against each other.

Apostrophe – A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and could reply

Archetype – Archetype is the original pattern from which copies are made.

Assonance – The repetition or a pattern of similar sounds, as in the tongue twister “Moses supposes his toeses are roses.”

Bard – The definition of a Bard is a Gaelic maker and signer of poems.

Blank verse – Blank verse is in unrhymed iambic pentameter which is a type of meter in poetry, in which there are five iambs to a line.

Cacophony – Lewis Carroll makes use of cacophony in ‘Jabberwocky’ by using an unpleasant spoken sound created by clashing consonants.

Caesura – A grammatical pause or break in a line of poetry (like a question mark), usually near the middle of the line.

Conceit – An example of a conceit can be found in Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” when an image or metaphor likens one thing to something else that is seemingly very different.

Consonance – Consonance is the repetition, at close intervals, of the final consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words.

Connotation – Connotation is What a word suggests beyond its basic definition. The words childlike and childish both mean ‘characteristic of a child,’ but childlike suggests meekness and innocence

Couplet – Shakespearean sonnets usually end in a couplet and are a pair of lines that are the same length and usually rhyme and form a complete thought.

Dactyl – A metrical foot of three syllables, one long (or stressed) followed by two short (or unstressed), as in happily. The dactyl is the reverse of the anapaest.

Denotation – Denotation is the basic definition or dictionary meaning of a word.

Dialect – Dialect refers to pronunciation of a particular region of a Country or region.

Elision – Elision refers to the leaving out of an unstressed syllable or vowel, usually in order to keep a regular meter in a line of poetry for example ‘o’er’ for ‘over’.

Enjambment – Enjambment comes from the French word for “to straddle.” Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence form one line or couplet into the next and derives from the French verb ‘to straddle’. An example by Joyce Kilmer is ‘I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree’.

Envoy – The shorter final stanza of a poem, as in a ballade.

Epithet – An epithet is a descriptive expression, a word or phrase expressing some quality or attribute.

Euphony – Euphony refers to pleasant spoken sound that is created by smooth consonants such as “ripple’.

Euphemism – Euphemism is the use of a soft indirect expression instead of one that is harsh or unpleasantly direct. For example ‘pass away’ as opposed to ‘die’

Falling Meter – Trochaic and dactylic meters are called falling meters because they move from stressed to unstressed syllables.

Feminine rhyme – A rhyme that occurs in a final unstressed syllable: pleasure/leisure, longing/yearning.

Figure of speech – A verbal expression in which words or sounds are arranged in a particular way to achieve a particular effect such as alliteration, antithesis, assonance, hyperbole, metaphor, onomatopoeia and simile.

Foot – Two or more syllables that together make up the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem. For example, an iamb is a foot that has two syllables, one unstressed followed by one stressed. An anapest has three syllables, two unstressed followed by one stressed.

Form – Form is the generic term for the organising principle of a literary work. In poetry, form is described in terms elements like rhyme, meter, and stanzaic pattern.

Heptameter – A line of poetry that has seven metrical feet.

Heroic couplet – A stanza composed of two rhymed lines in iambic pentameter.

Hexameter – A line of poetry that has six metrical feet.

Hyperbole – Hyperbole (overstatement) is a type of figurative language that depends on intentional overstatement.

Iamb – A metrical foot of two syllables, one short (or unstressed) and one long (or stressed). The lamb is the reverse of the trochee.

Iambic pentameter – Shakespeare’s plays were written mostly in iambic pentameter, which is the most common type of meter in English poetry. It is a basic measure of English poetry, five iambic feet in each line.

Idiom – Idiom refers to words, phrases, or patterns of expression. Idioms became standard elements in any language, differing from language to language and shifting with time. A current idiom is ‘getting in a car’ but ‘on a plane’.

Imagery – Imagery draws the reader into poetic experiences by touching on the images and senses which the reader already knows.

Irony – Irony is a situation, or a use of language, involving some kind of discrepancy. An example of this is ”Water, water everywhere but ne’er a drop to drink’.

Jargon – Jargon refers to words and phrases developed by a particular group to fit their own needs which other people understand.

Litotes – A litote is a figure of speech in which affirmative is expressed by the negation of the opposite. “He’s no dummy” is a good example.

Meter – Meters are regularized rhythms. An arrangement of language in which the accents occur at apparently equal intervals in time. Each repeated unit of meter is called a foot.

Meiosis – Meiosis is a figure of speech that consists of saying less than one means, or of saying what one means with less force than the occasion warrants.

Metonymy – A figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another with which it is closely associated. Some significant aspect or detail of an experience is used to represent the whole experience.

Onomatopoeia – A figure of speech in which words are used to imitate sounds. Examples of onomatopoeic words can be found in numerous Nursery Rhymes e.g. clippety-clop and cock-a-doodle-do.

Paradox – A paradox is a statement or situation containing apparently contradictory or incompatible elements.

Pentameter – A line of poetry that has five metrical feet.

Persona – Persona refers to the narrator or speaker of the poem, not to be confused with the author.

Quatrain – A stanza or poem of four lines.

Refrain – A phrase, line, or group of lines that is repeated throughout a poem, usually after every stanza.

Rhyme – The occurrence of the same or similar sounds at the end of two or more words.

Rhythm – Rhythm is significant in poetry because poetry is so emotionally charged and intense. Rhythm can be measured in terms of heavily stressed to less stressed syllables. Rhythm is measured in feet, units usually consisting of one heavily accented syllable and one or more lightly accented syllable.

Rising Meter – Anapaestic and iambic meters are called rising meters because they move from an unstressed syllable to a stressed syllable.

Scansion – The analysis of a poem’s meter. This is usually done by marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in each line and then, based on the pattern of the stresses, dividing the line into feet.

Spondee – A metrical foot of two syllables, both of which are long (or stressed).

Stanza – Two or more lines of poetry that together form one of the divisions of a poem. The stanzas of a poem are usually of the same length and follow the same pattern of meter and rhyme.

Stress – Stress refers to the accent or emphasis, either strong or weak, given to each syllable in a piece of writing, as determined by conventional pronunciation.

Synecdoche – Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole.

Syntax – Syntax refers to word order and sentence structure. Normal word order in English sentences is firmly fixed in subject-verb-object sequence or subject-verb-complement. In poetry, word order may be shifted around to meet emphasis, to heighten the connection between two words, or to pick up on specific implications or traditions.

Tetrameter – A line of poetry that has four metrical feet.

Trochee – A metrical foot of two syllables, one long (or stressed) and one short (or unstressed).

Trope – Trope is the use of a word or phrase in a sense different from its ordinary meaning.

Understatement – Understatement refers to the intentional downplaying of a situation’s significance, often for ironic or humorous effect.

Verse – A single metrical line of poetry, or poetry in general (as opposed to prose).

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