How Has William Shakespeare Influenced the English Language?

Shakespeare influenced the English language by devising new ways to use words, creating numerous words and phrases still used today and inspiring countless titles in popular media. Shakespeare is one of the most influential English-language writers, and he is estimated to have contributed over 1,700 words to the language.

Language was becoming more malleable during Shakespeare’s time, and he was a major figure in its development. One of his main innovations was to take words and completely change the way they were used, creating new words in the process. For example, in “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare takes the noun “antic,” meaning a fool, and transforms it the verb “anticked,” meaning to fool someone. This type of fluidity in language continues to this day, and Shakespeare is largely responsible for this linguistic freedom.

Shakespeare’s flexibility with language created thousands of new words and phrases. Without his works, English would have less expressive capability. Even those completely unfamiliar with his works are likely familiar with some of the words he invented, including “grovel,” “gossip,” “bedazzled” and “gloomy.” Many of the phrases Shakespeare coined are also universal, including “a heart of gold,” “in a pickle,” “a wild goose chase” and “fair play.”

Shakespeare’s skill with language made him one of the most quoted and borrowed from writers. Works as diverse as Nick Lowe’s pop hit “Cruel to Be Kind” and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “North by Northwest” borrow from Shakespeare.