I have dyslexia, and when I pronounce words in my head the syllable count and stress doesn't reflect the way the words are pronounced in everyday speech. I think you might describe it as phonetic pronounciation?

For instance, the IPA pronunciation for 'Strength':

/stɹɛŋkθ/, [st̠͡ɹ̠ɛŋkθ], [st̠͡ɹ̠ɛn̪θ]

However I found when I was trying to work out the syllables for this word, I would say (in my head) the word how I learnt to spell it:


Which is ~4 syllables, but when I speak the words out loud as part of a line of poetry (with the standard pronunciation) I can't for the life of me hear where the stress falls.

As an example, I tried to write this limerick for a puzzle:

These strings of digits are unique
My first in time and space so to speak
And so, you'll find, is my second
with three 'n' five names are reckoned,
And fourth's the random assignment technique

However I got feedback that it didn't scan, I figured out that my struggles were with the in-head/out-loud pronunciation I described above.

This is the 'fixed' version:

These many strings of digits unique
First made from space and time so to speak
The same for my second
Three 'n' five: names reckoned,
And my fourth has a random technique

But now this version doesn't quite sound right to me either.

Is there a way for me to check the meter, syllables and stress for writing poetry without relying on my (faulty) pronounciation?

  • Move to a structure with loose meter to match your vocabulary and theme. The 'awkwardness' is the poetic styles clash: Limerick (folk-entertainment, bawdy punchlines, said aloud in a sing-song rhythm and exact syllables) verses Romantic Poetry (literary metaphors about pastoral life, with a lilting anti-rhythm in counterpoint to actual words, merging and replacing syllables with apostrophes to emphasize anti-meter in the text) –– It's like Cardi B singing opera or Maria Callas singing about her WAP – it won't 'sound right' because these poem styles are incongruent in rhythm and tone.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 10:56
  • If your goal is to write 'metered poetry' as in your question, simplify your vocabulary and sentence structure for sharper impact. The more meter, the more 'on the nose' the subject matter should be to match. Limericks, like pop music, use familiar meter as a hook to focus the mind and telegraph the 'punch' ending…. Abstraction and metaphor invite playful deconstruction of meter and language. Poetry that harkens back to ye olde pastoral times will be freer with meter and stylized language to reflect how the mind wanders in the organic quaintness of nature.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 11:11
  • How is your pronunciation when you're not reading? (Namely when performing a poem you've memorized.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 18:50
  • 1
    Otherwise, a general rule of thumb is that conjunctions/prepositions/etc--unimportant words--are usually unstressed in poetry. In this poem you have stress on "from" and "for", where we'd expect the stress to be on the nouns/verbs surrounding. Otherwise "many", "second", and "reckoned" all have the stress on the wrong syllable (based on your goal scanning from your link). The majority of two syllable words have their stress on the first syllable, so you're probably best assuming that but also checking a dictionary? (since you are correct that unique and technique have their second stressed)
    – Kitkat
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 19:24
  • 1
    Just noticed this related question: Scansion tool for checking my meter
    – user5232
    Commented Nov 29, 2021 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


Going from the basis in comments that you can't hear the differences in stress when reading your poem out loud, here's what you could do:

  1. Make a stress map of how you want your poem to be. For example, in the first line of a limerick you could do:
  • da da DA, da da DA, da da DA (this is how the last line of your second sample scans)
  • da Da, da da DA, da da DA da ("There once was a man from Nantucket")

etc. Your lines 1, 2, and 5 just all should be the same (possibly dropping the first syllable in some but let's not get into that :D), and then same with 3 and 4.

  1. Write your lines based on your stress map, with one poem syllable per stress syllable.
  • Look up multi-syllable words in the dictionary and make sure they're placed appropriately
  • "Small words" -- conjunctions, prepositions, sometimes pronouns and is/was/etc, should generally be unstressed. If you have an "important word" (a noun, verb, adjective, etc) next to a "small word", make the important word the stressed one.
  1. Give your poem to a friend to make sure it scans!

If we dive into your example:

These many strings of digits unique

First made from space and time so to speak

The same for my second

Three 'n' five: names reckoned,

And my fourth has a random technique

Taking line by line:

These many strings of digits unique

You want it to scan like this:

These man-NY strings of DIG-its u-NIQUE

First problem here is that it's the "man" in "many" that is meant to be stressed, rather than the "ny". So, we can't scan it like that.

So, our brains decide to scan it with "man" stressed, like this:

These MAN-y strings OF digits U-nique

Which also doesn't work because it puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable of "unique". Also, emphasizing "of" when "strings" and "dig" are right there is odd.

Scanning our second line in the same two ways, we either end up emphasizing "from" (which is weird because "made" and "space" are both more important words) or else we emphasize both "and" and "to", which also don't make sense to focus on.

For lines three and four, think about the first three syllables of each:

The same for

Three 'n five

The important words here are "same", "three", and "five". The problem is they're on different syllables on each line. So if we scan the first like this:

The SAME for my SEC-ond

That's fine. But that would make our next line:

Three N five names RECK-oned

Which puts the stress on "N"--the least important part of the line.

Alternatively, if you do:

The same FOR my sec-OND

Three 'n FIVE so reck-ONED

You're both emphasizing "for", and you're putting the stress on the wrong syllable of "second" and "reckoned".

The last line scans correctly.

  • This has literally made my day, I'll have to digest it later, but this is amazing Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 23:04

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