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What Is a Spondee?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A spondee is a type of metrical foot within poetry that indicates a foot that contains only two syllables, both of which are stressed. This is in contrast to the more common metrical disyllabic feet — iambs and trochee — which are composed of both a stressed and unstressed syllable. The use of this type of foot precludes tonal variation between the two components of the spondee itself. This means it is almost exclusively used to make one foot stand out among others and not as a metrical form for an entire poem or even a single line of a poem.

Much like other types of feet, such as the iamb, trochee, and dactyl, a spondee is a single element within a line of metered poetry. Poems written using a particular metrical rhythm are often divided, by line, into a number of different feet. The number of feet per line of a poem is indicated by the meter in which the poem is written, such as tetrameter, pentameter, or heptameter. A poem written in any type of tetrameter has four feet per line of the poem, while a poem written in heptameter has seven feet per line.

The way in which each of these feet are structured depends on the type of feet used throughout the poem. A poem written in iambic pentameter is written with each line containing five feet, indicated by “pentameter,” and each of those feet is written in the iambic style. Iambs are quite common and fairly simple, consisting of only two syllables with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed. This is in contrast to a trochee, which is a disyllabic foot consisting of a stressed first syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. A spondee, on the other hand, is a foot within a line of poetry that also has two syllables, but both of them are stressed.

Most poets do not use a spondee as an ongoing metrical structure, since the resulting poem would consist of nothing but stressed syllables. Even a single line of a poem written in this way would be unpleasant to read and lack rhythmic variation. A spondee is typically used in a poem written in another style, usually iambic or trochaic, to provide emphasis on a particular foot.

There are certain words and phrases that naturally contain two stressed syllables, and the use of these words in a disyllabic structure often creates a spondee within a line. Words like “breakdown,” “barbell,” and “heartbreak” are all examples of naturally occurring spondees. These words can also be used in other types of feet without the creation of a spondee, such as trisyllabic feet like a bacchius, which contains two stressed syllables along with an unstressed syllable.

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