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Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in three main ways:

1. Questions and negatives could be formed without using 'do/did' as when Othello asks Desdemona:

Weep'st thou for him to my face? (V, ii, 78)

where today we would say: 'Do you weep for him in front of me?' and where Desdemona answers:

O banish me, my lord, but kill me not (V, ii, 79)

where modern usage demands: 'but do not kill me'. Shakespeare had the option of using forms a. and b. whereas contemporary usage permits only the a. forms:

       a.                   b. 
What did she say?      What said she? 
What does she say?     What says she? 
She did not speak.     She spoke not. 
She does not speak.    She speaks not. 

2. A number of past particles and past tense forms are used which would be ungrammatical today.

Among these are:

'chose' for 'chosen': I have already chose my officer (I, i, 17)

spake' for 'spoke': Upon this hint I spake (I, iii, 165)

'hid' for 'hidden': Let it be hid (Act V, ii, 361)

'broke' for 'broken' in: ...the day had broke before we parted (III, i, 31).

3. Archaic verb forms sometimes occur with 'thou' and with 'he/she/it':

But thou must needs be sure (I, i, 103)

With the Moor, say'st thou? Who would be a father? How didst thou know 'twas she? (I, i, 165)

Or came it by request and such fair question As soul to soul affordeth? (I, iii, 113-114)


Shakespeare and his contemporaries had one extra pronoun 'thou' which could be used in addressing a person who was one's equal or social inferior. 'You' was obligatory if more than one person was addressed:

The servants of the Duke and my Lieutenant! The goodness of the night upon you, friends. (I, ii, 34)

but it could also be used to indicate respect as when Othello told Desdemona's father:

Good signor, you shall more command with years Than with your weapons. (I, ii, 60-61)

Frequently, a person in power used 'thou' to a subordinate but was addressed 'you' in return as when Othello and Iago speak:

Iago: Did Michael Cassio When you wooed my lady, know of your love?

Othello: He did, from first to last. Why dost thou ask?

(III, iii, 93ff)

but if 'thou' was used inappropriately it could indicate a loss of respect. Emilia invariably addresses Othello as 'you' until she realizes he has killed Desdemona, when she switches to 'thou':

Thou dost belie her and thou art a devil.

(V, ii, 134)

One further pronominal reference warrants a comment: the use of 'it' where contemporary English requires 'he/she':

...'tis a worthy governor (II, i, 30).


Prepositions were less standardized in Elizabethan English than they are today and so we find several uses in Othello which would have to be modified in contemporary speech. Among these are:

'on' for 'of' in:

I am glad on't (II, i, 30)

'in' for 'at' in:

And bring them after in the best advantage (I, iii, 294)

'with' for 'at' in:

Tomorrow with your earliest Let me have speech with you. (II, iii, 7-8)


Contemporary English requires only one negative per statement and regards such utterances as "I haven't none" as nonstandard. Shakespeare often used two or more negatives for emphasis as when Brabantio insists:

For nature so preposterously to err Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense Sans witchcraft could not. (I, iii, 62ff)

and Cassio says:

None in the world, nor do I know the man. (V, i, 103)

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