I often hear people using the words “stanza” and “verse” interchangeably, the small quotes of The Holy Bible are also called verses, and even the non-chorus part of songs are also called verses.

I’m in need of an explanation of the actual meaning of verse and what can be and what cannot be called a verse.

  • 5
    Have you looked in a dictionary? Feb 13 '21 at 14:17
  • In French, a vers is a single line of poetry, and a strophe is what we call a stanza. The first person to subdivide the chapters of the Bible into numbered verses was the Frenchman Robert Estienne, and he called his subdivisions versets (a diminutive of vers, i.e., little verses). English bibles started using the same subdivisions, and calling them verses.
    – Peter Shor
    Feb 13 '21 at 15:28
  • I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on English Language Learners.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 14 '21 at 9:33

There are three basic meanings of "verse":

  1. A line of metrical writing. Strictly speaking, this term should refer to a single line. To avoid confusion with the second meaning (below), "it is preferable to call a line a line and a stanza a stanza" (Baldick, page 271).
  2. A stanza, especially in a hymn or a song. This may cause confusion with the preceding meaning.
  3. Poetry in general, as opposed to prose. The advantage of the term "verse" over "poetry" is that the former suggest technical requirements regarding rhythm and metre (and possibly rhyme) rather than suggesting poetic merit. From a technical point of view, free verse as a special case.

A stanza is

  • "A group of lines of verse" (Cuddon, page 915).
  • "a group of verse lines forming a section of a poem and sharing the same structure as all or some of the other section of the same poem in terms of lengths of its lines, its metre, and usually its rhyme scheme" (Baldick, page 242).

The above definitions of verse don't take the Bible into account. As Peter Shor pointed out in a comment, the 16th-century French printer and scholar Robert Estienne was the first to print the New Testament with a subdivision into verses that has become standard. For the Old Testament, Estienne used the verse numbering introduced by Santes Pagnino's translation, which was published in 1528 (see Bibliorama). "Verset" was translated into English as "verse", thereby adding another meaning to those listed above.


  • Baldick, Chris: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Second edition. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Bibliorama: Présentation de la bible.
  • Cuddon, J. A.: The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third edition. Penguin 1992.

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