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10 Shakespeare Quotes that you can use in Modern English

The English Language owes a huge debt of gratitude to William Shakespeare. Not only did he give us some of the world’s most memorable plays that have stood the test of time, he also enriched our language with a variety of wonderful English phrases.

In fact, a lot of common, modern English phrases originally come from Shakespeare quotes. Whilst researching this blog post, I was very surprised to find just how many Shakespeare quotes form part of our everyday, modern English usage.

I’d like to share with you just 10 of these quotes. I’ve given you the modern English phrase, its meaning with an example and the original Shakespeare quote.

1. Bated Breath - worried or excited and paying a lot of attention because you want to know what will happen

EX : ‘We waited with bated breath to find out who had won’.

Shylock : Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key, With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness,

(The Merchant of Venice)

2. Cruel to be kind - to say or do something to someone that seems unkind but is intended to help them

EX : ‘I told her the facts - sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind’.

Hamlet : So again good night. I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.


3. Foregone conclusion - a result that you can be certain about before it happens

EX : ‘That the company was moving to California was a foregone conclusion’.

Othello : O monstrous, monstrous!

Iago : Nay, this was but his dream.

Othello : But this denoted a foregone conclusion.


4. He hath eaten me out of house and home (humorous) - to eat too much of someone’s food when you are a guest in their home

EX : ’My nephews came to see me at the weekend and ate me out of house and home!’

Hostess Quickly:

He hath eaten me out of house and home, he hath

put all my substance into that fat belly of his

(Henry IV Part 2)

5. Wear my Heart on my sleeve - to make your feelings obvious to others

EX : ’ You always know how Jack is feeling, because he wears his heart on his sleeve’.

Iago :

In complement extern, ‘tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve


6. In my heart of hearts - used when you know something is true but don’t want to admit it

EX : ‘In his heart of hearts, he knew that he would have to sell the company’.


That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him

In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,

As I do thee.


7. In/At one fell swoop - with one sudden action

EX : ’In one fell swoop, he’s destroyed everything we’ve achieved in the last year’.

MacDuff (on hearing that all his family have been killed) :

What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam,

At one fell swoop?


8. Short shrift - a firm and immediate refusal to do something

EX : ’I’ll give them short shrift if they ask me for money’.

Ratcliffe :

Come, come, dispatch: the Duke would be at dinner;

Make a short shrift: he longs to see your head.

(Richard the Third)

9.What the Dickens (informal, old fashioned) - used for emphasising a question when you are surprised or angry

EX : ‘What the dickens do you think you’re doing?’

Ford : Where had you this pretty weathercock?

Mrs. Page :

I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had

him of. What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?

NB : 'dickens' here refers to satan and not Charles Dickens.

(The Merry Wives of Windsor)

(The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare’s Globe, London)

10. Wild-Goose Chase - a futile pursuit, a worthless hunt

EX : ’ I wasted all afternoon on a wild-goose chase - it was so annoying’.

Mercutio :

Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for

thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am

sure, I have in my whole five.

(Romeo & Juliet)

Have you ever seen these Shakespeare quotes before ? Have you used them in your daily English Language exchanges ? Which one is your favorite ?

If you think that they are useful and that your friends and colleagues could use them, please share this blog post with them.

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Guest Blogger : Shanthi Streat

Graduated in Politics and International Studies from the University of Southampton, UK in 1989. After 20 years in the world of Finance in such varied fields as life assurance, stockbroking, fund management, and wealth management, she decided to re-train as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Trainer. She studied for the CELTA at International House, London in 2009 and has since been a freelance English Trainer both offline and online.

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A bientôt.

Laurence Franzini

If you think that they are useful and that your friends and colleagues could use them, please share this blog post with them.

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