Quick Tricks: Working With Syllables in Poetry

Edit (12/6/16): Whoops. In my examples using the word "father," I marked the wrong syllables as stressed/unstressed! Fa- should have a slash, and -ther should have a breve. My bad! ☺

Hey there! Oh, it's been too long. I've really tried my hardest to avoid these post gaps, but I have just had nothing lately. Absolutely nothing in mind. The urge to write is there and stronger than ever, but whew. Creativity has left the building!

It'll come back, though. Eventually. Till then I just ask that you continue bearing with me and my sluggish posting.

But! That brings me to this: I may not be getting posts out as often as I'd like, but I am still writing - and as I recently had to write up a sonnet for a class I'm taking, I felt like sharing with you a little trick that I discovered to be an excellent way to work with meter and the pesky syllables that form it.

Working With Syllables

Next to figurative language, rhythm and meter are often among the most problematic areas for people when it comes to writing poetry. Myself included. I've never had too much issue with creating rhythm - but tell me I need to have a specific number and placement of stressed and unstressed syllables and I'll give you the "deer in the headlights" look.

I don't know about you, but I'm actually crap when it comes to knowing about language mechanics and the parts of words and sentences. That's all too technical for me. I've always just been more of an intuitive writer, not knowing what the hell a participle is but having no issues forming one. So, although I know by feeling what a syllable is, I couldn't explain it to you. And actually, in the case of syllables, I've not even trained my ears enough yet to be able to identify them instinctively like that. Thus this simple method was born:

Click to enlarge

This particular example is of an English sonnet layout, though this can be done with any type of poem. It looks strange without any explanation, but I've broken it down for you below, and will explain what each little piece means as well as how to use them.

The Setup

Line #

First up are your line numbers. In the above image, you'll find the line numbers as 1-14. However many lines your poem has, put that many numbers in the first column. Sonnets are made up of 14 lines, therefore this example is labeled 1-14.

*This is useful when you have a length limit. Write your desired number of lines, and it'll be much easier to keep track!


Next to the line number is where you will write your poem, syllable by syllable.

Sonnets are typically written in what's known as iambic pentameter, which I won't go into detail about here but which is a form of meter where each line contains exactly 10 syllables. The example image above therefore contains 10 blank spaces per line, and each space acts like a placeholder.

*Go slowly with this. It's still easy to accidentally put the entire word in one blank space instead of separate syllables. But this should only happen if the entire word is one syllable.

Example: Say you wanted to use the word "father." Father contains two syllables, and will take up two blank spaces.

Stressed & Unstressed Syllables

Probably the most technical part to this, the stresses on each syllable are marked by slashes and breves. These are the little symbol thingies you see underneath each blank space. This is a traditional kind of syllabic notation (and the act of such notation is called "scansion"), with slashes ( / ) representing stressed or long syllables, and breves (the sort of U shape) representing unstressed or short ones.


Because sonnets use iambic pentameter, my image examples use an "unstressed, stressed" pattern for every line.

Rhyme Scheme

And finally, the last and far right column is to keep track of your rhyme scheme. If you're unfamiliar with the term, think of it like this: Every rhyme set gets a letter of the alphabet. Every new rhyme or nonrhyming word gets the next letter. Like so:

Shark (A)
Cat (B)
Fark (A)
Bat (B)
Mat (B)
Dog (C)

English sonnets typically follow the ABAB - CDCD - EFEF - GG rhyme scheme pictured.

Putting It All Together

Line #, syllable placeholders, stresses, and rhyme scheme - put it all together, and this is what your first line will look like:


I hope if you struggle with recognizing syllables and their stresses like I often do, that you found this helpful! I've only used this method once as of writing this, and it has already done a world of good when it comes to training my ears to hear those little nuances. I'll certainly be using this with many of my future poems.

Did this help you? I'd be happy to clarify any confusing parts!
Do you have any tricks like this that you use when writing poetry?


  1. Yaaay, you are back! It is always worth reading your posts, Eve :D This trick is really awesome and so useful for writers (mostly poets) but it is nice to learn new things. This post is original from the others and I love your creativity. Amazing! :)

    1. For now! :D lol. I'll probably have another big gap in between this post and the next.. But I'm glad you liked this! I just found it super, super useful while doing my own writing, and I hope that it can help some others who find syllables and stresses a bit tricky. They have been one of the more intimidating parts to work with for me, and I always avoided messing with them in my poetry lol.

      You're so right when you say it's nice to learn new things! Thank you, Heena! :) Nice to hear from you again.

  2. Replies
    1. Glad to hear you found it so! ^^ You're welcome! Thank you for reading!

  3. I used some of these tips when I was teaching English in Germany!

    I wish you a very merry Christmas :)

    1. Ahh how cool! :) They're great help when you're just getting the hang of this stuff. How long were you teaching in Germany?

      And to you as well! Hope you have a great holiday, and a wonderful start to the new year!

  4. Ahaha I remember when I first learned about iambic pentameter whilst studying Shakespeare, and I thought it was literally THE coolest thing ever. (Tbh I still do.) But when I write poetry, I just feel as I go. I'm not a lyrical genius like Shakespeare.

    1. Iambic pentameter is fantastic! And not too complicated once you understand its parts. It sure makes for great reading when used well! :D I find it interesting how it's often described as a rhythmic heartbeat.

      That's usually how I go about it, too. Just feel as I go. Can be a bit messy that way sometimes, but you develop good intuition after a while. It's tough for anyone to live up to the lyrical genius that is Shakespeare lol. But that's what practice and experimentation is for.. :)

  5. Love the new header image! :D
    I started reading your book btw. :) Your poetry is so soothing. ^_^

    1. Oh thank you! :D It's still not perfect, but it's a lot less busy than my last header, and I'm happy with it at least for now lol.

      Yay! A lot of the poems in there I think are crap lol. They were my first attempts and my early steps into the world of poetry, and, well, not too much else. :D But I think it's good to be able to look back at them, see what's changed and what hasn't. Do let me know if you find one or a few that you really feel should be included in the final book - I'll probably be either removing or replacing many of them, but extra consideration will certainly be given to any that people think should stay. :)

  6. It's so glossy, which is why I like it. xD
    Oh! I'll let you know for sure via e-mail. Though I am pretty sure I'll love all of them.

    1. lol, I love the gloss. At first I felt like it didn't really fit well with the rest of my blog - kinda stood out strangely, you know everything else is.. flat, and the shiny moon appeared like a completely different texture. Been an issue with all my headers, actually. But I think it's alright!

      Haha! Well, I always hope. :D Sounds great! Appreciate it. :)


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