If you’d to be doing city 125 year ago, or 500, or also 2,000, meter would have been the very very first thing girlfriend learned.

You are watching: What is the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables

For much more than 2,500 years, meter—which just way the use of a regular rhythm—was so crucial that words through meter were poetry, and words without it can not be.

And if you think around it, this renders sense. Just think around all the rhythms that are almost everywhere in life, from her heartbeat come the cycle of the seasons. Even now in our technical age, valuation is a powerful part of person life, and so of food it became main to humankind’s many strongly‑felt developments in words.

But today, meter is much less common—some poets come to it late, some never use it, and you might not even know what that is.

But in the same method that learning to attract is a an excellent idea if you want to be an artist, even a conceptual artist, learning around meter is still a good idea if you desire to it is in a poet.

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Drawing helps artists learn about shape, light, texture, and also line, and that’s advantageous even if they never ever exhibit a solitary drawing.

Likewise, learning meter can help you understand the sounds, feelings, and “textures” the the indigenous you’re using, even if you never publish a line of iambic pentameter in her life.

So this article is the very first in a collection where I will take you with what you require to know to about meter.

In the beginning, there to be stressed and also unstressed

Before we obtain to meter though, I need to get you a small stressed. And likewise unstressed.

You see, in English, every meter (and undoubtedly all rhythm) is constructed on patterns the stressed and also unstressed words and also syllables.

Learning poets sometimes get themselves in a twist around this, but I expect you won’t! You check out there’s no need to fear stresses, because it’s something that you usage all the time.

Whether you recognize it or not, girlfriend constantly vary the lot of stress (meaning loudness, weight, or any type of other emphasis) the you give to different syllables and words, once you talk and also when you read.

So every you need to do come start finding out meter is come become conscious of what you’re currently doing.

Syllables recap

First, let’s perform syllables. A valuation is a “beat” within a word. Some words have just one win or syllable, like:




Other words have multiple syllables, favor “apple,” i m sorry splits right into two beats: “ah” and also “pul.”

Some much more examples:

Two syllables: carrot, attack, record

Three: attitude, banana, copycat

Four: obviously, diameter, television

and for this reason on.

And together I claimed above, syllables are an important because castle the building blocks of rhythm.

Syllables and also Stresses in multi-syllable words

Now we have to go a action further and also think around the difference in between stressed and unstressed syllables.

(For convenience, we usually refer to syllables in poetry together either “stressed” or “unstressed,” although in truth it’s a sliding scale, through varying levels of stress. Yet you don’t need to gain into that, so ns won’t!)

In general, English words have actually one emphasize syllable, and the various other syllables space unstressed.

That means that one rate is claimed LOUDER or through extra emphasis than the other syllables in words (assuming of course that the word has more than one syllable).

So, think about the native “apple.”

In theory, there are two different means to to speak this, depending on where you put the stress:

You have the right to say AH-pul

putting the stress on the first syllable

Or you have the right to say ah-PUL

putting the anxiety on the second syllable.

But if you shot them both out loud—and you re welcome do, it’s the best means to understand—you’ll discover that one that these options sounds wrong.

We just don’t to speak ah-PUL: us only ever say AH-pul.

If you can’t hear what ns mean, shot exaggerating the way you’re saying the word. Put a man amount that extra anxiety on either the AH or the PUL. Both ways will sound a little odd, yet one will still sound like the native apple: the other really won’t.

And this is because:

The words we use come with solved patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables constructed in.

Phew! This is a big relief. Why? since it makes your job easier.

Imagine if every time you wrote a line of poetry you had to decide yourself wherein the stresses must go in every word! You’d go mad.

But friend don’t have to. All you need to do is learn which syllables space already stressed, and also use those to help you develop your meter (using the methods I’ll cover in the later articles).

Let’s practice finding those emphasize syllables

Here room the native I noted earlier. Please take a couple of moments to identify which syllable you think is emphasize in every of these words.

carrot, attack, record

attitude, banana, copycat

obviously, diameter, television

Answers—please look just AFTER you’ve cleared up your own

(Really, I understand it’s a pain to stop and also do the exercise, but you’ll find out this way far better if you execute it yourself!)

OK, ready? right here are the answers.

Carrot: very first syllable CA-rot

Attack: 2nd syllable ah-TACK

But for “Record,” ns played a mean, dirty cheat on you! Both methods of saying “Record” are correct—but they have different meanings.

If you carry out the first syllable


you mean a noun, the point the Beatles offered billions of and that her children/grandchildren have actually no idea ever included music.

But if you carry out the second syllable


you median the verb, to paper something or to placed sounds onto a tape/MP3/smartphone.

So simply be conscious that sometimes changing the stress alters the word.

Remember you currently use this knowledge all the time: it simply takes a small practice to transport it into poetry.

More answers:

Attitude and also copycat are very first syllable AH-ti-tude COH-pee-cat

Banana is 2nd syllable ba-NAH-na

Obviously is first syllable OB-vee-uss-lee

Diameter is second syllable die-AM-ett-er

But “Television” is one more dirty trick! There space two different ways to say this word, and also they both work:

first rate TEL-ee-vizh-un.

or 2nd syllable: tel-ee-VIZH-un.

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Depending on whereby you come from, how your household said the word, and also some other factors, you might use one or the various other of these—or you may use both at different times!

So, occasionally, there are words that space flexible choose that. (In particular, different patterns of stress and anxiety are one of the (many) things that different British English from American English.)

But in general, when you understand where the anxiety is in a word, you have the right to be pretty certain of that being true because that life!

Using a dictionary to help

If you gain stuck, v a word, look it up, and also the thesaurus will tell girlfriend what the stressed syllable is.

For example, expect you wanted to recognize which syllable was meant to be emphasize in words “cogent.”