Words Shakespeare Invented
The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. Below is a list of a few of the words Shakespeare coined or adapted, hyperlinked to the play and scene from which it comes. When the word appears in multiple plays, the link will take you to the play in which it first appears. For a more in-depth look at Shakespeare's coined words, please click here.
** Please note that the table below gives both a sample of words Shakespeare coined and words he adapted. For example, "elbow" was a noun before Shakespeare, but he turned it into a verb. There are many books on the subject and etymological dictionaries if you want a list of only words coined. **
For more words that Shakespeare coined please see the Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language by Dr. Ernest Klein (1966) or Shakespeare-lexicon: A Complete Dictionary of All the English Words, Phrases and Constructions in the Works of the Poet by Alexander Schmidt (1902). For words Shakespeare used only once, please see The Once Used Words in Shakespeare by James Davie Butler (1886).
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Words Shakespeare Invented. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html >.
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Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them directly in his plays. His vocabulary was the largest of any writer, at over twenty-four thousand words. According to James Davie Butler, "the total vocabulary of Milton's poetical remains is more nearly seventeen than eighteen thousand (17,377); and that of Homer, including the hymns as well as both Iliad and Odyssey, is scarcely nine thousand. Five thousand eight hundred and sixty words exhaust the vocabulary of Dante's Divina Comedia." (The Once Used Words in Shakespeare)
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