5 Ways Shakespeare Changed English That You Never Knew

A Brief Introduction to the Bard

No one can dispute the profound impact that William Shakespeare, often referred to as the Bard of Avon, has had on the English language. His works, including plays, sonnets, and poems, have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. But aside from his iconic contribution to the world of drama and literature, Shakespeare's influence on the English language itself is immeasurable. Below, we explore five ways in which this legendary wordsmith changed English in ways you may not have known.

The Birth of New Words

Shakespeare's creative genius did not stop at intriguing plots or complex characters; it also extended to the English language itself. It is estimated that he invented around 1,700 words, many of which are commonly used today. These include "assassination," "lonely," "radiance," and "bedroom." By changing nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, connecting words never used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words entirely original, Shakespeare enriched the English language, making it more expressive and colourful.

Shakespearean Phrases and Idioms

Many phrases and idioms that we use in our daily conversations were first penned by Shakespeare. These include "a wild goose chase," "wear your heart on your sleeve," "a laughing stock," "in a pickle," "too much of a good thing," and "dead as a doornail." These phrases have been so thoroughly absorbed into English that most people use them without realizing their origin. Shakespeare's knack for expressing complex ideas and emotions in simple, relatable phrases is one of the reasons his works have stood the test of time.

The Influence on Modern Linguistics

Shakespeare's influence extends to the field of linguistics, particularly the study of modern English. His works provide a comprehensive record of Early Modern English, and linguistic scholars often turn to his plays and poetry when studying the language's evolution. Moreover, the flexibility with which Shakespeare treated language, bending and moulding it to fit his needs, has helped shape the malleable and adaptive nature of English.

Shakespeare's Impact on Cultural References

Shakespeare's stories have become deeply embedded in global culture and are frequently referenced in other works of literature, music, film and television. His characters, themes and quotes have permeated our consciousness to such an extent that they have become part of the common cultural and linguistic heritage. Expressions like "star-crossed lovers" from Romeo and Juliet or "all the world’s a stage" from As You Like It have become commonplace, demonstrating how Shakespeare's English has become our English.

The Shakespearean Sonnet

The Shakespearean sonnet, also known as the English sonnet, is another significant contribution to the English language. Shakespeare popularized this form of poetry and added a stylistic twist to its structure, which consists of three quatrains and a couplet. It's not only the form but also the language used in these sonnets that left an indelible mark. His sonnets are filled with eloquent language, vivid imagery, and profound themes, all of which have greatly influenced English poetry.

In conclusion, Shakespeare's influence on the English language is not just about the words and phrases he invented. It's also about the creative freedom he demonstrated, the cultural references he embedded, and the poetic structures he popularized. So the next time you find yourself using a peculiar phrase or appreciating a beautifully structured poem, spare a thought for the Bard of Avon who might have had a hand in it. His legacy lives on in our language, reminding us of the beauty and versatility of English.