Understanding Tercets: Definition, Examples, and Uses
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What are Tercets?
  2. History of Tercets in Poetry
  3. Characteristics of Tercets
  4. Examples of Tercets in Poetry
  5. How to Write a Tercet
  6. Uses of Tercets in Poetry

Picture yourself in a cozy reading nook, engrossed in a book of poetry. You turn the page and stumble upon a stanza composed of three lines, beautifully rhymed. You've just encountered a tercet! Now, let's take a closer look at the definition of tercet and its role in the world of poetry.

What are Tercets?

When it comes to poetry, tercets hold a special place. But what exactly are they?

Definition of Tercet

A tercet, in its simplest form, is a group of three lines of verse, which either rhyme together or are connected by rhyme with an adjacent tercet. So whenever you see three lines of verse grouped together in a poem, you can confidently say, "Ah, that's a tercet!"

Origin of the term 'Tercet'

The term 'tercet' might sound a bit fancy but it's actually straightforward. It comes from the Italian word 'terzetto', which simply means 'little trio'. It's like the poetry version of a trio in music, where three musicians play together. Similarly, in a tercet, three lines of verse harmonize to create a beautiful poetic melody.

Why Tercets?

Now, you might wonder why poets would use tercets. Why not just stick to couplets or quatrains? Well, tercets offer a unique balance. They provide more room for expression than a couplet, yet they're more compact than a quatrain. This allows poets to pack more punch into a smaller space — like a poetic power trio!

So there you have it, a basic understanding of what tercets are. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As we delve deeper into the history, characteristics, and uses of tercets, you will discover how this simple poetic form can create profound effects in poetry.

History of Tercets in Poetry

Now that we know what a tercet is, let's take a magic carpet ride through the annals of poetry and see how tercets have been used throughout history.

The Dawn of Tercets

The tercet's journey begins in the Middle Ages. It was in this era that the tercet form first sprouted wings in the hands of Italian poets. The most notable example is perhaps Dante Alighieri, the poet behind the epic masterpiece, "The Divine Comedy". He used a specific form of tercet known as the terza rima to spin his tale of a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

The Tercet Across Borders

Like a bird in flight, the tercet form eventually crossed borders and found a home in English poetry. Poets like Geoffrey Chaucer picked up the tercet and began experimenting with it. This led to new variations of the tercet, such as the haiku from Japan, which has since become a beloved poetic form worldwide.

Tercets in the Modern Era

Fast forward to the present day, and the tercet is still alive and kicking in the poetry scene. Contemporary poets continue to use and reinvent tercets in creative ways, proving that this poetic form is far from being outdated. From popular song lyrics to award-winning poetry collections, the tercet is as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago.

So, as you can see, tercets have a rich and varied history in poetry. They've been embraced by poets from different cultures and epochs, showcasing the versatility and enduring appeal of this three-line stanza. And who knows? Maybe you'll be the next poet to make history with your own unique spin on the tercet!

Characteristics of Tercets

So, we've explored the history of tercets in poetry, but what makes a tercet a tercet? Let's break down the typical features of this poetic form.

Three Lines

The core characteristic, and the reason behind the name, is pretty straightforward — a tercet is a stanza of three lines. It's like a mini-story within a poem, neatly packaged in a trio of lines. But don't be fooled by its brevity. Each line is a chance to tell a tale, share a feeling, or paint a picture.


When it comes to rhymes, tercets are quite versatile. They can follow a variety of rhyme schemes, commonly ABA, AAA, or ABB. That means you could have the first and third lines rhyme, all three lines rhyme, or the last two lines rhyme. The choice is yours, and it's part of what makes writing tercets so much fun!


Metre in tercets can also vary. From the strict five syllables of a haiku to the free verse of modern poems, tercets can be written in any metre that suits your poetic vision. The rhythm can be as steady as a heartbeat or as wild as a dance. It's all up to you!

So, that's the lowdown on the characteristics of tercets. They're defined by their three lines, but beyond that, they're a playground for poetic creativity. Now that you know what they look like, you're ready to spot them in the wild— or even better, create your own!

Examples of Tercets in Poetry

It's time to dive into the world of poetry and explore some examples of tercets. Seeing these in action will help solidify your understanding of what a tercet is and how it functions within a poem.

Dante's Divine Comedy

One of the most famous examples of tercets in poetry is Dante's Divine Comedy. In this lengthy epic, Dante used a form of tercet known as terza rima. This rhyme scheme is complex, intertwining the stanzas by using a pattern that rhymes the second line of one stanza with the first and third lines of the next. It's like a poetic relay race, passing the rhyme from stanza to stanza.


For a shorter and simpler example of a tercet, look no further than the haiku. This traditional Japanese form is all about brevity, using only three lines and a specific syllable count (5, 7, 5). Despite their simplicity, haikus can convey complex emotions and capture snapshots of nature or moments in time. For example, consider this haiku by Matsuo Basho:

Just three lines, but they tell a whole story!

Emily Dickinson's Tercets

Emily Dickinson often used tercets in her poetry, but with a twist. Rather than sticking to traditional rhyme schemes, she often used slant rhyme — words that almost rhyme, but not quite. This gave her tercets a unique sound and feel, demonstrating the flexibility of this poetic form.

These examples show just a few of the ways poets have used tercets to shape their work. Whether they're part of an epic tale, a snapshot of a moment, or a twist on tradition, tercets add structure, rhythm, and a dash of creative challenge to a poem.

How to Write a Tercet

Now that you've seen tercets in action, you might be wondering how to create one yourself. Don't worry — writing a tercet isn't as daunting as it might seem. Let's break it down into simple steps.

Step 1: Decide on Your Rhyme Scheme

The first thing you need to do is decide on your rhyme scheme. Remember, a tercet can have different rhyme schemes like AAA, ABA, or AAB. It's your choice, so pick the one you feel most comfortable with or the one that suits your poem's mood and theme.

Step 2: Choose Your Topic

Next, choose a topic for your tercet. It could be anything — a feeling, a scene from nature, a moment in time, or an abstract idea. The world is your oyster here. Just remember to keep it tight and focused, as you only have three lines to work with.

Step 3: Write Your Tercet

Now comes the fun part: writing your tercet. Start by brainstorming some phrases or ideas related to your topic. Then, try to shape these into three lines that follow your chosen rhyme scheme.

For instance, if you chose an ABA rhyme scheme and your topic is a sunset, your tercet might look something like this:

See, writing a tercet isn't so hard, is it? With a bit of practice, you'll be crafting beautiful tercets in no time. Just remember, the key to good poetry is to express your authentic self — so let your true voice shine through in your tercets.

Uses of Tercets in Poetry

You've now got the definition of tercet down pat and even know how to write one. But what about the use of tercets in poetry? Why do poets choose this specific form? Let's explore a few reasons.

Creating Rhythm

One of the main reasons poets use tercets is to create rhythm. This poetic form allows for a steady beat that can make a poem more engaging and easier to read. Much like the waltz in dance, which moves in three steps, a tercet moves the poem along in a pleasing rhythm.

Adding Visual Interest

Tercets can also add visual interest to a poem. When you look at a poem written in tercets, you'll notice it has a particular shape on the page — kind of like a series of steps. This can make a poem more appealing to the eye and draw the reader in.

Highlighting Ideas

Finally, tercets can be used to highlight specific ideas. Each line within a tercet can stand on its own, making it a powerful tool for emphasizing key thoughts or feelings. So, if a poet wants to make a point stand out, they might choose to use a tercet.

So there you have it — tercets aren't just three lines of poetry thrown together. They're a versatile tool in a poet's toolkit, used to create rhythm, add visual interest, and highlight important ideas. Now that you know more about their uses, you might start to notice tercets popping up in all sorts of poetry!

If you enjoyed learning about tercets and want to expand your knowledge of poetry and storytelling, check out the workshop 'Documentary Treatment: The Last Act' by Reshelshah. While it focuses on documentary storytelling, the principles and techniques taught in this workshop can also be applied to other forms of creative writing, including poetry. Discover new ways to captivate your audience and create impactful narratives through this informative and engaging workshop.