All terms

What is accentual verse?

A form of verse where the number of stressed syllables in each line remains constant.

Stress Less: The Basics of Accentual Verse

Accentual verse is a poetic form in which the number of stressed syllables in each line remains constant, while the number of unstressed syllables is subject to variation. This strict adherence to stressed syllables helps to create a rhythmic pattern that gives accentual verse its distinctive sound.

While accentual verse may seem more restrictive than other forms of poetry, it also allows for more experimentation with word choice, since the number of syllables is not fixed. Unlike syllabic verse, which requires the same number of syllables in every line, accentual verse allows poets to play with the length of each line, depending on the number of unstressed syllables needed to maintain the pattern of stresses.

Many classic forms of poetry are based on accentual verse, including Old English poetry, which used a line of four stressed syllables as the basis for much of its verse. More modern forms, such as free verse, may also incorporate elements of accentual verse for added rhythmic interest.

Accentual Verse in Literature: Examples in Action

Here are two examples of accentual verse used in well-known works of poetry and prose:


The epic poem Beowulf, written in Old English around 1000 CE, is an excellent example of accentual verse. Each line of Beowulf contains four stressed syllables, with the number of unstressed syllables varying between zero and three:

'Hwæt we Gar-Dena in geardagum,

þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!'

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Robert Frost's poem 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' is an example of accentual verse in modern English. While the number of syllables per line varies, the poem maintains a consistent pattern of four stressed syllables per line:

'The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.'