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What Are The Features Of Shakespeare’s English?

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Early Modern English l was about a hundred years old when Shakespeare was writing. There existed not dictionaries and Latin was still the language in which most documents were written. He contributed over 3000 words to the English language, because he was the first who wrote them . There are nearly 1700 of those words that were used by him for the very first time, including antipathy, assassination, hereditary, snow-broth, mouth honour, under-honest or zany.

W. Shakespeare is well known for borrowing words from other languages. He created them by ‘changing nouns into verbs (to friend, to cake), changing verbs into adjectives (amazement, generous), connecting words never before used together (eyeball, birthplace), adding prefixes (unreal) or suffixes (laughable), and devising words wholly original.’ He left a great mark in English vocabulary, as he didn’t add to the English language just words, but also expressions that we use in our daily lives: heart of gold, wild-goose chase, fainthearted, the milk of human kindness, down the primrose path and many more.

Some words that this famous writer used, have changed its meaning over the years, some examples are affect (show foundess for. “There’s a lady in Verona here whom I affect, but she is really nice and coy”), appeal (accuse. “Make look the boisterous late appeal”), bottled (swollen. “That bottled spider, that foul bunch-back’d toad”), and catch (song. “Rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three souls out”). He also adopted new borrowings from the New World, such as alligator (used in Romeo and Juliet), cannibal (used in Othello as well as several other plays), and hurricane (used in King Lear).

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We can find some differences in grammar. As it was Early Modern English, there are peculiarities that nowadays aren’t used In first place we can see the possessive adjectives mine and thine that were utilised before the words beginning with /h/ or vowel. (“Thine home, mine eyes”, vs, thy domain, my nose); secondly, the alternation between the third person singular present that could end both in -(eth) and -(e)s. In some cases ,they appear in the same phrase (“With her, that hateth thee and hates versus all”) ; thirdly, the use of thou and you and, finally, something called multiple negation (“And that no woman has; nor never none shall be mistress of it”. Twelfth Night, 1602).

He knew how to create a vivid and descriptive language through “figures of speech”. He used metaphors, similes etc. Puns were also a common feature in Shakespearean English. He used them as a method of making meaning, as we can see in this example (after Hamlet killed Polonius and stowed his body away he is asked where Polonius is. He answers: “he is at supper, not where he eats, but where he is eaten” which meant that Polonius was the worm’s supper). It is said that some of his tragedies are an “extended pun” as Shakespeare liked to develop images in an extended way.

Another Shakespeare’s wordplay is malapropisms, which consist on the “ludicrous misuse of words” OED. We can appreciate it in Much Ado About Nothing: “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.”(comprehended should be apprehended and auspicious should be suspicious).

In some of his plays Shakespeare uses what is called “nonstandard English”. He mixes English with other languages (Irish, Scottish, French or Welsh). E.g. “Vat is you sing?I do not like des toys” or “ay’ll de gud service,or ay’ll lig i th grund for it, ay,or go to death!” Shakespeare innovations have made a great impact in the English language as we can see from his legacy.


  1. Shakespeare’s language (Keith Johnson).

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What Are The Features Of Shakespeare’s English? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
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