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School of Modern Languages & Cultures
Department of Hispanic Studies

 

SPANISH VERSIFICATION


1. Syllabification (combinations of vowels)

(a) Within a word.

‘Strong’ vowels: a e o. ‘Weak’ vowels’: i u.
Hiatus (hiato): 2 ‘strong’ vowels form separate syllables (ja-le-o, pa-e-lla, cre-en).
Stressed í or ú (written with an accent) counts as ‘strong’ (ha-cí-a, ba-úl).
Diphthong (diptongo): ‘strong + weak’ forms a single syllable (cau-sa, ai-re, deu-do, hoy).
‘Weak + weak’: the first counts as weak, the second as strong (ciu-dad, cui-dar).
Triphthong (triptongo): ‘weak + strong + weak’ forming a single syllable (liáis, miau).
Sinéresis: occasionally, 2 strong vowels may be combined into a single syllable, especially if it is the same vowel repeated (neer-lan-dés, al-cohol, teo-rí-a); this happens frequently in normal spoken Spanish, and can be employed in poetry.

(b) Within the line of poetry.

Sinalefa: the final vowel of one word normally combines with the initial vowel of the following word to form a single syllable, regardless of punctuation (in normal speech, a pause does of course prevent sinalefa, but for the purpose of scansion punctuation is usually ignored):

le echa fuera — lee-cha-fue-ra
se allana el país — sea-lla-nael-pa-ís
su mutuo amor — su-mu-tuoa-mor
no hay nada — nohay-na-da

Sinalefa only applies within the line, not between one line and the next, even if there is encabalgamiento (enjambement — no punctuation) between the lines in question and they would be read without a noticeable pause.

2. Counting the number of syllables in a line

(a) If the last word in the line is stressed on the second-to-last syllable (terminación grave/llana), the actual number of syllables counts:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

so

bre

los

cam

pos

des

nu

dos

This is an octosyllable (8-syllable line).

(b) If it is stressed on the last syllable (terminación aguda), you add one to the syllable count:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

la

muer

teen

mi

ca

saen

tró

 

This is also an octosyllable.

(c) If it is stressed on the third-to-last syllable (terminación esdrújula), you subtract one from the syllable count:

1

2

3

4

5

6

 

7

laes

tre

llae

su

na

gri

ma

This is a heptasyllable (7-syllable line).

(d) In other words, all lines are treated as if they had a grave ending with a stress on the second-to-last syllable.

(e) The rules for combining vowels allow a degree of flexibility and can be manipulated to get the right number of syllables in a line. Sinéresis can be used to combine two ‘strong’ vowels. The opposite process, diéresis, involves separating two vowels that would normally form a diphthong, which may be indicated by the diacritical mark also known as diéresis (diaeresis in English): ruido has two syllables, rüido counts as three (ru-i-do). The following line is one of a series of regular heptasyllables:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

con

se

din

sa

a

ble

3. Rhyme

(a) Full rhyme (rima consonante/total).

Matching of vowels and consonants from the last stressed vowel onwards (if the endings are agudas, the final syllable is blank):

 

ges-to

frí-o

a-mor

ho-nes-to

som-brí-o

ho-nor

pres-to

gen-tí-o

se-ñor

e-nhies-to

rí-o

ma-yor

(b) Full rhyme can be used in various sequences:

Rhyming couplets (pareados) — AA BB CC.
Groups of four lines — ABBA (rima abrazada), ABAB (rima encadenada).
Longer stanzas (estrofas) with a regular pattern, e.g. octavas reales — ABABABCC.

(c) Assonance (rima asonante/vocálica).

Matching of vowels from the last stressed vowel onwards (in a diphthong, only the ‘strong’ vowel matters):

 

hacienda

opulencia

doncella

conocerla

aldea

Assonantial rhyme usually applies to alternate lines (with no rhyme on the other lines).
If the endings of the rhyming lines are agudas, the last vowel matches and the last countable syllable is blank:

crin

varonil

Guadalquivir

 en mí

A line with an esdrújula ending can rhyme assonantially with a grave word (disregarding the second-to-last vowel of the esdrújula):

ondulados

sonámbulos

caballo

4. Types of line

(a) A line of verse is referred to in Spanish as un verso. Lines may be of any length, but the most commonly used forms have 6, 7, 8, 11 or 14 syllables.
Lines of up to 8 syllables are known as versos de arte menor; those of 9, 10 or 11 syllables are known as versos de arte mayor. Lines of more than 11 syllables are versos compuestos, consisting of two hemistiquios (hemistichs) divided by a real or notional pause known as a cesura (caesura).

(b) Heptasílabos (7-syllable lines) are often used in combination with 11-syllable ones. Silva is a metre consisting of 7- and 11-syllable lines in any sequence with full rhyme; lira combines 7s and 11s in stanzas of 5 lines: 7A 11B 7A 7B 11B.

(c) Octosílabos (8-syllable lines) are used in various types of full-rhyme stanza and in the traditional ballad form (romance), which has assonance on every second line.

(d) Endecasílabos (11-syllable lines) are the most common type of verso de arte mayor. The main stresses in a hendecasyllable should conform to one of four patterns:

enfático 1 – 6 – 10
heroico 2 – 6 – 10
melódico 3 – 6 – 10
sáfico 4 – 6 – 10 or 4 – 8 – 10

(e) Alejandrinos (Alexandrines) are the most common type of verso compuesto, consisting of 14 syllables in two 7-syllable hemistichs. The syllable count — including the rules for aguda and esdrújula endings — applies separately to each hemistich, and sinalefa is not applied across the caesura:

1

2

3

4

5

6

.

7

//

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

soy

clá

si

coo

ro

mán

ti

co

//

no

de

jar

qui

sie

ra

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

//

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

ha

ciael

ca

mi

no

blan

co

//

es

táel

me

na

bier

to

(f) An estribillo is a repeated refrain of up to four lines, often rhyming with the last line of each stanza. A verso de pie quebrado is a short line included in a sequence of longer lines, either randomly or according to a regular pattern.

4. Sonnet

(a) A sonnet (soneto) is a poem consisting of 14 lines of the same length, usually hendecasyllables. Traditionally, the structure is defined as two cuartetos + 2 tercetos:

ABBA

ABBA

CDC

DCD

(b) While the 4+4+3+3 structure is usually respected, variations on the rhyme pattern are common (especially in the tercets). Alexandrines or other metres are sometimes used in sonnets.


 

M.P. Thompson
Updated December 2004

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