I would like to write a Shakespearean poem that reads and sounds like a poem written during that time period. However, I don't know where I can find an exhaustive list of words that were used during that time with the corresponding words used today. Could someone help me out? I don't want to use some Shakespearean words and end up leaving some, because I am not aware of them. I want to go 100% Shakespearean.

  • 19
    Maybe start with reading Shakespeare's sonnets.
    – NofP
    Feb 14, 2019 at 23:40
  • The issue is that I won't necessarily have an exhaustive list of words used during that time. Words like thou, art, thee comes to mind, but I am pretty sure there are at least 100.
    – Sayaman
    Feb 14, 2019 at 23:50
  • 3
    Some words change meaning. Shakespeare knew ‘for’ to mean opposition to something. Read the works of the Bard - it is the best way.
    – Rasdashan
    Feb 15, 2019 at 3:30
  • 11
    Vocabulary alone won't give you a "Shakespearean" poem. Grammar has changed since Shakespeare's days, as has word pronunciation. The last one means rhymes and puns are different than they would have been then. You'd need to learn all of it - there are no shortcuts. Feb 15, 2019 at 9:24
  • 1
    As a supplement to @Galastel s comment, you might find it interesting that the possessive "its" is almost never used. Instead, "his" or "hers" was commonly applied to inanimate objects, as if objects had gender as they do in many other languages. For instance, in "All's Well That Ends Well": " I adore The sun, that looks upon his worshipper, ", or "Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese; consumes itself to the very paring, and so dies with feeding his own stomach." Feb 16, 2019 at 20:13

5 Answers 5


After you're done reading the sonnets, you can check your newly learned words against this reference of Common Words & Phrases in Shakespeare's World:


A note of caution. As with any pre-compiled work that is not the direct result of your efforts, I would still recommend a bit of skepticism when approaching such a shopping list.


Here are Shakespeare's sonnets in a text file from Guttenberg.org


Open the file in a text editor and strip away the metadata and footnotes.

These are the literal words that he used when writing poetry.

  • 4
    +1 You beat my laziness :)
    – NofP
    Feb 14, 2019 at 23:58
  • +1 Great find. "feel'st" is now my favorite contraction.
    – mascoj
    Feb 15, 2019 at 23:20

A concordance lists every word used in a work (or across a series of works) alphabetically, so the link Concordance of Shakespeare's complete works from OpenSourceShakespeare will be helpful. Clicking on a word will show you which works it was used in, and clicking on the title of the work will show you the exact quotes.

OpenSourceShakespeare also has the full text of Shakespeare's works if you want to just read.


For a discussion on outdated words that once had a rather more complex usage in "Back in the Day" times, check out TVTrope's article "Get Thee to a Nunnery" which has a whole section devoted to both the Bard himself and the Bible (a very naughty book, mind you). Shakespeare himself is the god of Dad Jokes and most of his works are filled with quaint euphamisms that were definately meant to be taken the wrong way, such as words like "Wit" and "Stones" are meant to be male genitalia (Wit, in most examples given, is almost always discussed in some term of length or size) and words like "Nothing", "Cut", "Ring" and "Quaint" (pun intended) were female.

The title of the article is a line from "Hamlet" where Hamlet and his love interest Ophilia are engaging in flirtatious play and he admonishes her for something she said by saying "Get Thee to a Nunnery" which at the time, was a Euphamism for a brothel, not a convent (where Nuns live).

There are also several plays that mock Shakespeare by playing up to his style. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)" is loving parody of Shakespeare's entire collection of works. If you go to youtube and search "Shakespeare's Who's on First" you'll find a video of two players performing the famous Abbot and Costello sketch as if Shakespeare had written it.

  • Did Shakespeare ever use "quaint" in this sense? I associate it more with Chaucer (in the spelling queynte). Feb 15, 2019 at 20:44
  • @RobertFurber you can find out by following the link in Laurel's answer...
    – Mr.Mindor
    Feb 15, 2019 at 22:31
  • @Mr.Mindor Having done so, it seems the answer is no. Feb 23, 2020 at 2:27

Another source for Shakespeare is the Kaggle Data file of the complete works. This has the complete Shakespeare including the plays and the poems in a csv file and can be easily filtered to include just the plays or just the poems or whatever you are interested in.

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