Shakespeare’s Contributions to English


Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

Shakespeare's Contributions to English

Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

William Shakespeare, the greatest English poetic dramatist, contributed many new elements to the English language through his world-famous plays and sonnets. His contributions to the English language are relating to new phrases, compound words, modification of word meaning, conscious use of the ungrammatical sentence, insertion of obsolete words, the invention of literary proverbs, the invention of striking similes, metaphor, hyperbole and other figures of speech. Let us discuss them one by one as below:

First of all, a reader of Shakespeare will be surprised, if he opens a page of any one of his writings, seeing many striking phrases, such as: full of sound and fury, a tower of strength, a Daniel has come to the judgment, yeoman’s service”, hoist with his petard, moving accident, to be or not to be etc.

The second great contribution of his to English is compound words, which before him nobody could make. By adding original French prefixes ‘-en’ and  ‘-em’ to English words he coined such words as: enact, endeared, enchased, embattle etc. and by adding English prefixes un to French words he made such new words as- unless, unvalued, unchanged etc. 

Except these, he could make compound adjectives by adding one adjective to another such as: happy valiant, daring hardy etc.

The third contribution of Shakespeare to English is ungrammatical but proverbial and charming phrases, such as-The whole ear of Denmark (for the ear of all Denmark), to know what willing ransom he will give (for what ransom he will willingly give), wanted less impudence (for had less impudence).

The fourth contribution of Shakespeare to English is that he had introduced many English words which no longer were in circulation and giving them a place in his writings he has preserved such words as: courtship, eventful, excellent, fretful, hint etc.

Fifthly, Shakespeare used many verbs as nouns, nouns as verbs and many adjectives as verbs. For example:

 Verbs as nouns: control, down, dress, hatch, import etc.

 Nouns as verbs: bound, hard, jade etc

Adjectives as verbs: happy, safe, valiant etc.

Shakespeare used many provincial words, especially the words that belonged to the Warwickshire dialect, West Midland dialect etc. and gave a good state in literature such as- peeze (meant drive away), dwindle, bespeak etc. most imitating of Shakespeare’s phrases is ‘out Herod-Herod’ imitating which many English writers have created many new phrases such as- out Keats -Keats, out Darwin –Darwin, out Bantly- Bantly etc.

Sixthly, the illuminating contribution of Shakespeare is that he popularized many obscure English proverbs, such as:

(a) All that glitters is not gold.

(b) Sweet are the uses of adversity.

(c) Our enemies are our outward conscience.

Seventhly he had invented many new axiom-like sentences which we regard as our everyday popular proverbs. As for example-

(a) Brevity is the soul of wit.

(b) He loses the world who buys it with much care.

(c) Guiltiness will speak though tongues were out of use.

(d) A good name in a man or woman is the immediate jewel to their soul etc.

Eighthly, Shakespeare’s greatest contribution to English is his invention of new simple, metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech. For example-

(a) Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more, it is a tale,

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(b) Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.

(c) Here’s the smell of blood still; 

All the perfumes of Arabia

Will not sweeten this little hand

Thus Shakespeare’s contributions to English are as many as that of the Bible. After him, many English writers like Keats, Ruskin, Whitman, Hopkins, Eliot and many others have gone under the conscious influences of Shakespeare’s contributions to English. 0 0 0

Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

Read More: Latin Influences on English

N. B. This article entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Contributions to English’ originally belongs to the book ‘A Brief History of the English Language‘ by Menonim Menonimus. Shakespeare’s Contributions to English

Books of Linguistics by M. Menonimus:

  1. A Brief History of the English Language
  2. Essays on Linguistics
  3. My Imageries
  4. Felicitous Expression: Some Examples
  5. Learners’ English Dictionary

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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