30 Words and Phrases That Shakespeare Gave Us (and What They Mean)

Believe it or not, the English playwright William Shakespeare added over 1,700 words to the English language. While his audiences are unlikely to have known what many of these words meant, the popularity of his work meant that huge numbers of people took these words and used them anyway – relying on context to work out the meaning.

Some of the words Shakespeare created are downright amazing. However, if you want to find them all, you’d need to work your way through at least 38 plays and around 150 poems – so it’s understandable if you don’t have time.

For those who enjoy weird and wonderful words but don’t have years to invest in reading Shakespeare’s collected works, here’s a taste of the best ones. 

Phrases Created by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare didn’t just create new words, he also took existing words and turned them into descriptive and meaningful new phases. Many of these phrases have become such familiar parts of our modern language that we forget they were actually created as lines in some of the world’s most famous plays.

Take a look at the original Shakespeare phrase and what each of them means:

“I haven’t slept one wink”: I have not slept at all

“Break the ice”: To reduce any awkward social tension and get a conversation moving

“Too much of a good thing”: Even enjoyable things can be bad for you in excess

“Cruel to be kind”: Giving someone harsh honest advice for their benefit 

“The clothes make the man”: People can be judged based on how they are dressed or presented

“In my heart of hearts”: You most true, inner feelings

“My own flesh and blood”: Part of your family – often a child

“All that glitters isn’t gold”: Things might not be as appealing as they look

“Fit for the Gods”: Something of such high-quality it could be served to the Gods

“Wild-goose chase”: A pursuit of something that requires effort but doesn’t bring any result

“Wear my heart on my sleeve”: To be honest about true feelings

“What’s done is done”: Something that has happened in the past cannot be changed

Words created by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is thought to have created 1,700 new words that were absorbed into the English language. While some of the words he created have stayed in the 16th and 17th Century – whereas others have become terms that many of us use everyday.

Accommodation: A place where people can stay

“I used AirBnB to book some fantastic holiday accommodation!”

Bump: A light blow or knock 

“I bumped my head when I fell off my bike.”

Critical: Expressing an adverse comment or judgement

“The performance review gave him chance to ask for some critical feedback on his plans.”

Dishearten: To cause someone to lose confidence or determination

“Tom appeared disheartened by the call from his parents.”

Dislocate: To move something from its proper position

“The doctor confirmed the gymnast’s worst fears, his shoulder was dislocated.”

Eventful: Made up of interesting or exciting events

“Lucy’s party was made more eventful when the police knocked on the door!”

Frugal: Being careful with money or resources

“After losing her job, Samantha decided she should be more frugal with money.”

Generous: Being ready to give more than is expected or necessary

“It was a generous donation – almost five times what anyone else had given to the charity.” 

Gloomy: Dark or poorly lit – as to appear depressing or frightening

“He went down the stairs into the gloomy basement.”

Impartial: Treating everyone equally – showing no preference to one party or another

“The referee had to do his best to remain impartial.”

Lapse: A fleeting moment where concentration, memory or judgement fails

“The driver had a momentary lapse of concentration at a crucial moment.”

Laughable: So absurd that the thing becomes funny

“The presentation was so inaccurate it was laughable.”

Lonely: feeling down or sad due to a lack of company, friends or companionship

“Harry was feeling very lonely since he lost his dog.”

Majestic: Having or showing impressive scale or beauty

“It was a majestic theatre, beautifully decorated and capable of seating 2,000 people”

Premeditated: Pre-planned or thought-out beforehand

“His messages show that this was clearly a premeditated crime..”

Sanctimonious: Showing off about being morally superior to others

“He was acting in a sanctimonious way – but his wife knew the truth.”

Submerge: To place something under water

“She decided the best way to wash the cup was to fully submerge it in the water.”

Suspicious: Having a level of distrust towards someone or something

“I was suspicious about the car – it looked like it had been in a recent accident.”