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What Is Trochee?

By A. Gamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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In poetry the rhythmic beats in verses are sometimes created by metrical feet such as a trochee. Trochees are a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in which the stressed syllable is immediately followed by an unstressed one such as in the word "happy." Trochaic meters are one of the most popularly used feet in poetry.

Ancient Greek and Latin artists frequently used trochees in comedy and tragedy music, poetry, and plays. Trochees were first used in English around the beginning of the 17th century. Longer poems in English tend to sound monotonous when trochaic meters are used; however, short poems use them quite well. The best example of this would be with William Blake’s “Tiger.” Trochaic meters are not popular in modern-day poetry, but they are frequently used in advertisement jingles and slogans to help make them more memorable.

The best use of trochee is when it is combined with other metered feet. Trochee is often combined with anapest, which is a pattern of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, and dactyl, which is one stressed syllable followed by two that are unstressed. Two other more rare types of metered feet are spondee, which is two stressed syllables in succession, and pyrrhic, which is two unstressed syllables in succession.

Trochees used sparingly or with other metric feet help to create an engaging rhythm. It can make the poem sound chant-like — as in the poem “Tiger” — or to merely give it a more distinct beat. Using trochee in a poem may also make it sound more musical and pleasing to the ear. The overall aim of trochee is to remove monotony and make the poem feel less flat and predictable.

Trochaic meters are often confused with iambic meters which are unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables. The best way to tell if a foot is trochaic or iambic is to analyze the first line. This is because each follows a similar pattern of singular stresses and non-stresses.

Linguists note that children tend to prefer trochaic words, meters and sentences over other types, particularly iambic. Some believe that trochees help children with their phonological progression, because it helps them to pronounce unstressed syllables better. There is a debate as to why this is so. Some believe it is because trochees are found more in children’s literature and school books, while others believe it is due to the fact that trochees provide a syllable pattern that is easier to mimic.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Jan 17, 2012

@tigers88 - I think that many of them did have a kind of genius. But make no mistake. Poetry doesn't come easily to anyone, even the greats.

I have read a number of biographies of the great poets and they struggled mighty to get their writing to sound the way they wanted it to sound. Some of them slaved over poems for years or went nearly mad as they suffered through writer's block. Their situation might not be that much different than yours. So don't give up. Good writing never comes easily.

By tigers88 — On Jan 16, 2012

I find poetic meter to be really fascinating but also really hard to pull off in my own writing. The way they talk about it in English classes and other places it makes poetry seem like a science, something you can break down to its constituent parts and manipulate in easy ways.

But when you really sit down and try to write a poem that has a very intentional meter you usually end up with a pile of awkwardly joined together words that have little connection to one another. I can't tell you how many poems I have had go haywire as I have tried to manipulate their meter.

It makes you appreciate the great poets even more. They obviously had some kind of genius, or special innate skill that gave them the ability to write like that.

By nextcorrea — On Jan 16, 2012

Lots of people think that poetry is just the random musings of overly dramatic self important people. And in some cases they are right. But to think this about all poetry would be to miss out on some of the most beautiful and musical writing ever done.

It is only once you really dive into the guts of a poem and start looking at how its really constructed that you can fully appreciate all the poet has done. Poets are not trying to be intentionally abstract, at least the good ones are not. A lot of the form and content of a poem has to do with its meter. Poets will pick certain words over another because of the way they contribute to the rhythm and sound of a poem. In this way a poem is as much about being heard as being understood.

I think the best way to get a feel for a poem you are really curious about is to read it out loud. Focus on the sounds and they way they sound passing across your lips. Then ask a friend or loved one to read it to you. Poems take on a new life when they are spoken into the air.

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