William Shakespeare

A Glossary of Common Shakespearean Words

Shakespeare frequently uses words which no longer exist in modern English, or which have changed their meaning since Shakespeare’s day. Here are some of the most common, with their modern meanings:

A: he
An: if
Anon: soon
Assay: to try
Art: are
Aught: anything

Base: lower-class, unworthy, illegitimate
Bawd: pimp, procurer of prostitutes
Brave: handsome, well-dressed, confident, outstanding

Caitiff: a wretched, pitiable person
Character: handwriting
Clepe: to call
Coil: trouble, chaos
Cozen: to cheat

Dame: mistress, mother, senior woman
Discourse: reason, capacity for reason
Doff: to take off
Dost: do
Doth: does

Eft: ready
‘Ere: before

Fain: glad, gladly
Fair: beautiful
For: because

Hast: have
Hark: listen
Hence: from now on
Hie: to hurry, to go quickly
Hither: towards here

Ill: bad, unskillful, inadequate, evil

Kind: nature
Kno to acknowledge, to recognize

Lay: to wager
Let: to hinder, a hindrance
Like: to please

Mark: to notice, to pay attention to
Mickle: much
Moiety: a portion, a part

Natural: a fool

Or: before
Out: all the way, fully

Parlous: dangerous
Practise: a trick

Quality: nature, character
Quit: to respond, to repay

Sans: without
Shre a woman who speaks her mind (meant as an insult)
Shrift: confession
Spleen: anger, impulsiveness
Stranger: foreigner

Tall: strong, brave
Thee: you
Thither: towards there
Thou: you

Vein: humor, mood, lifestyle

Wast: were

Whence: from where
Wherefore: why
Will: desire, intention

Yea: even