by George J. Dance

Feminine ending, in context of poetry, means a line of verse that ends with an unstressed syllable.[1] Its opposite is masculine ending, which describes a line ending on a stressed syllable.


For example, in the following lines by Longfellow, the first line has a feminine ending and the second a masculine one.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!

The terms "masculine ending" and "feminine ending" are based on French language grammar, in which words of feminine grammatical gender typically end on an unstressed syllable and words of masculine gender on a stressed syllable.[2]

In trochaic verse (like the trochaic tetrameter that Longfellow is using), feet and therefore lines naturally have feminine endings. In contrast, in iambic verse (which makes up most of English-language poetry), line endings are naturally masculine: using a feminine rhyme requires either dropping or adding a syllable.

The most common variation is to add an extra (or "extrametrical") syllable. Lines with (at least) one extra syllable added are called hypercatalectic lines. When an extra syllable is added to a line of iambic pentameter , the result is an 11-syllable (hendecasyllabic) line, as in the opening lines from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

Or these lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet XX:

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion ;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion
(Shakespeare, Sonnet XX)
A WO/man’s FACE / with NA/ture’s OWN / hand PAIN/ted
Hast THOU // the MAS/ter MIS/tress OF / my PASS/ion
A WO/man’s GEN/tle HEART // but NOT / acQUAIN/ted
With SHIF/ting CHANGE // as IS / false WOM/en’s FASH/ion

Every line in Sonnet XX has a feminine ending.

When two lines with feminine endings rhyme (as above), the result is called feminine rhyme .

Poems often arrange their lines in patterns of masculine and feminine endings, for instance in "A Psalm of Life" by Longfellow (from which the above couplet is taken) odd-numbered lines have feminine endings and even-numbered have masculine ones.

See alsoEdit


  1. Feminine ending, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., Web, July 19, 2011.
  2. OED, cited below

External linksEdit

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