Recently I've learned something about poetic meter such as iamb and trochee.

And I‘ve known that iamb is consisted of one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable. The rhythm of it sounds like da-DUM.

Trochee is the opposite and the rhythm of it sounds like DUM-da.

One of the classic example of trochee is the poem "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". The bold parts are stressed syllables.👇

TWINkle, TWINkle, LITtle STAR(DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM)


So here comes my question:

I’ve been reading a children's book and it rhymes from start to finish. The whole text sounds very rhythmic.

I take one excerpt of it for example👇 enter image description here

After I marked the stressed syllables of the text, I understand the rhythm of it goes like:

DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da

DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM

The first line is “trochaic tetrameter” and the second is “catalectic trochaic tetrameter”. It's quite clear.

But when I check another excerpt of it. A problem occurred. enter image description here

Initially, the first line is “DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM”. Since the last syllable “da” of the line is cut off, it's “catalectic trochaic tetrameter”. And the second line is “da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM”, so it’s “Iambic tetrameter”.

But When I read these two lines together, I tend to pronounce the “I’ll” of the start of the second line just followed closely by the end of the first line.

It seems that this “I’ll” just plays the part of the cut-off “da” of the end of the first line, which means it completes the trochee of the previous line.

If so, the first line turns to be “trochaic tetrameter” and the second line is “catalectic trochaic tetrameter”, sounding like:

DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da

DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM

And in this way, the rhythm of this excerpt is just the same as the first one I've mentioned before. They're all trochaic tetrameter with lines of 8|7|8|7 syllables.

And also the rhythm is almost the same as the poem "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". I read this line in this way: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1og46j-RbUR2IxqZrM7guOCGqCfBsccvl/view?usp=sharing

But I don't know whether it's right or not that I do so?

Thanks for the attention to this thread! It's kind of long but I'm trying to express the whole thing thoroughly.

  • Is the green box what you wrote? I don't understand it at all. Trochaic tetrameter would normally have 8 syllables, but the first line has 12 syllables. Is there any reason for that discrepancy? Nov 15, 2022 at 9:46
  • @MarcInManhattan Hi, this book is called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Not long ago I shared the same puzzlement with you. But then I was told that marking out the stressed syllables is on the first place. Then those unstressed syllables could be marked as one. Because in singing or speaking, those unstressed syllables are spoken faster, so that a "da-da" takes the same length of time as a "da".
    – DorisDong
    Nov 15, 2022 at 10:00
  • Oh, OK. I've never done it that way, but I'm not the best authority on poetry, so if someone who is an expert told you to scan it that way, then I guess that it's correct. Nov 15, 2022 at 13:57
  • How is this about learning English, and not about poetry?
    – gotube
    Nov 15, 2022 at 16:11
  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because this is not a question about learning English, but about English Language & Usage usage or Writing poetry, or Literature.
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2022 at 17:10

1 Answer 1


You're certainly not wrong about these different poetic meters. They exist pretty much as you define them, and they are fairly easy to spot, especially in children's literature. But unlike rules of grammar which can make a text right or wrong, a writer/poet can break or deviate from a poetic meter however they like - it's called poetic license! It would be a mistake to insist that the pronunciation of words should be altered to fit the stress arrangement of the perceived meter.

Take your example of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Some children (and adults) may stress the syllables in the way you highlighted, but others may not. In fact, this 'poem' is more commonly sung than read as poetry, and the interesting thing about this song is that the exact same melody is used for the children's songs Baa Baa Black Sheep and the 'ABC Song'. The former is also sometimes said as a poem, so consider the fact that "baa baa" has no inherent preference of which syllable to stress in comparison with the word "twinkle" when spoken naturally. In these comparable verses, syllable stress has more to do with the word choice and less to do with the structure of the poem.

Considering one of your other examples, you suggest that the line "Chicka chicka boom boom! Will there be enough room?" should be spoken with the emphasis on the second syllable in "enough". And you're right - to keep strictly to the perceived rhythm of the poem, that would be the case. But there's no rule to say it must be spoken that way. In fact, many educators using songs and poems like this to teach children would say that would be a bad idea. "Enough room" would sound like "a nufroom", and young children may not perceive what was really said. (Interestingly, some educators have adjusted the 'ABC' song in recent years to put individual emphasis on the letters L, M, N, O, P, as many children were hearing "elemenopee" and not perceiving these were five separate letters.)

Listening to your audio sample, there seems nothing wrong with your interpretation of this verse at all. Your English (and your singing!) is very good. Just one very minor observation - English speakers pronounce 'coconut' slightly differently (kō′kə-nŭt). Your pronunciation put equal emphasis on the first two syllables (co-co-nut). Crack that (pun intended) and you might find it flows better in your children's poetry.

  • 1
    Thank you for noticing other nursery rhymes such as Baa Baa Black Sheep, I start to realize that words like "baa baa" is just like "chicka chicka boom boom"in this book. And actually these four words all have no inherent preference of which syllable to emphasise. Pronouncing these words is just like swinging with the sentences. The words sawy to the left and to the right like a metronome. And thanks for telling me the new educational trend and the suggetion for pronouncing the word 'coconut'. Thanks for the reply! It's very instructive!
    – DorisDong
    Nov 15, 2022 at 11:02
  • @DorisDong - you also need to watch your habit of dropping the "d" at the end of "told", and pronouncing the word "the" as "de".
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 16, 2023 at 22:00

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