I am writing a poem and I need a word meaning "could not" that is only one syllable to be able to fit into the rhythm. I need it to be in past tense also.

I need it to replace "couldn't" in this line

That couldn’t be quenched with water.

And the whole stanza is

She set fiercest fires I’ve ever seen,

That couldn’t be quenched with water.

Her talons raked the earth so deep,

She crushed through bricks and mortar.


I can easily change the line to something else, but I won't do so unless there is no alternative to "Could not". So I would prefer if future answers would refrain from suggesting that I change the line or the words in it to replace "Could not".

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, Rory Alsop, tchrist, vickyace, NVZ May 27 '16 at 20:39

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Water and mortar rhyme? Is this for non-rhotic speech or people with epenthetic-r, who say 'warsh' for 'wash'? – Mitch May 26 '16 at 16:31
  • Suggest: Don't use words such as "That" in lyrics. Change the second line to simply "Can't be quenched with water". – Fattie May 26 '16 at 16:37
  • 1
    Sorry, there is no one syllable word that means exactly the same thing (including tense) as "could not", So you're either going to have to rework the line a bit, per several suggestions, or be ok with two syllables. – BradC May 26 '16 at 18:49
  • 2
    Quite honesty, if you're around my neck of the woods, "couldn't" is one syllable. Dictionary.com's first pronunciation guide is [koo d-nt] which is one actual vowel + what I would consider a "swallowed" vowel, and is not perceived as a full syllable. – VampDuc May 26 '16 at 19:15

Can't is one syllable, means (roughly) "couldn't", and scans correctly in your poem.

Further, can't has nice alliteration with quenched and crushed in line 4.

Also, you might consider changing the first line to the following variant:

She set the fiercest fires I've seen

This variant scans better (it's iambic tetrameter, like line 3), and turns the four lines into acceptable 8/7/8/7 meter.

  • I am looking for past tense verbs. – Oreo May 26 '16 at 10:43
  • 4
    Fair enough. But given it's a relative clause, "can't" works fine without distorting the meaning. – GoldenGremlin May 26 '16 at 10:45
  • Thanks for the alternate line though, that helped a lot. – Oreo May 26 '16 at 10:56
  • Another suggestion is to consider removing the 's' from 'bricks', rendering the phrase 'brick and mortar' (two mass nouns). I think the line sounds better without the sibilance (despite the fact that line 1 is highly sibilant). But that's probably highly subjective so do what you think is best. – GoldenGremlin May 26 '16 at 10:59
  • 1
    IMO shan't would be a better choice, retaining the subjunctive mood. – OrangeDog May 26 '16 at 13:24

In poetry there's never a right answer, since you can break all kinds of rules that usually would hold you back. Try changing the line to "unquenchable by water", or you could even extend 'couldn't' into 'could not' and drop 'That': "Could not be quenched with water".

It's your poem, so you must find the words that say it perfectly. Maybe these ideas will spark off something else? You don't need to limit yourself.

  • 2
    Even though the context is a poem, the request is for a single monosyllable which means the same as "could not." I don't think it's fair to say that there is no "right answer" just because it's poetry... – GoldenGremlin May 26 '16 at 10:48

I would take @Silenus's suggestion. But if you refuse that, you might rewrite the lines as:

She set the fiercest fires I've seen,

Unquenchable with water.

Her talons raked the earth so deep,

She crushed through bricks and mortar.

  • 1
    Good idea, but I think 'Unquenchable by water' is better. – Alan Baljeu May 26 '16 at 15:25

If you don't like can't, how about won't? Poetry tends to mix timing and so the usual rules of tenses can be somewhat bent...

She set the fiercest fires I’ve seen,

That won’t be quenched with water.

Her talons raked the earth so deep,

She crushed through bricks and mortar.

  • 1
    I specifically mentioned past tense. – Oreo May 26 '16 at 17:03
  • Damn, you're making this hard :) – Prof Yaffle May 26 '16 at 19:41

Perhaps you could try shan't?


(Britain) shall not

I shan't dignify that with an answer. What a stupid question!

Shall we go to see a film this afternoon? No we shan't.


I've never actually seen it used, but perhaps "coul'n't"? Contractions aren't limited to single elisions (see "fo'c'sle"), and it's not too much of a stretch to assume that removing the "d" could change the pronunciation from /ˈkʊd.(ə)nt/ to something like /ˈkʊnt/.

Update: OK, I didn't just make this up :)

From The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper:

"Well, if it's agreeable, I should think a woman coul'n't hear it too often."


That ne'er was quenched with water.

From http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ne-er:

adverb, Literary. 1.never.

Note: I've changed next word be -> was to get the past tense the OP desires.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.