As in modern English, words often appear in a reduced or elided form, with the omitted element shown by an apostrophe. The reason for the elision varies: in some cases it enables a word to fit the metrical character of a line or focuses the emphasis within a sentence more sharply; in others it helps to capture the colloquial character of conversational speech or identifies a character’s idiosyncratic way of talking. In most cases, the identity of the underlying word is obvious from the context, though some of the more unusual forms can make the reader hesitate - such as Lady Capulet’s thou’s (RJ I.iii.10). Some patterns are frequent and predictable, and these are listed below: ’tis, for example, is the regular contraction of it is (by contrast with present-day it’s). The verbs be, have, and do are commonly contracted with a preceding pronoun in colloquial speech, as in modern English. Often the contracted forms are the same as those used today (e.g. he’s, we’ll, let’s, o’clock); but there are several differences, including those listed below.
In some cases, it is only the written form that is distinctive: in modern English we do not usually write y’are for ‘you are’ or o’doors for ‘of doors’, but the colloquial pronunciation of you are going or out of doors would hardly differ between then and now. The presence or absence of an apostrophe in the texts also varies, depending partly on editorial practice and partly on whether a form might legitimately be considered a word in its own right (as in squire vs. esquire); for clarity, all forms are written with an apostrophe below.

Elision in grammatical words


Form Location Examples
have > ha’ Ham V.i.23 Will you ha’ the truth on’t?
shall > s’ RJ I.iii.10 thou’s hear our counsel
wilt > ’t, ’lt Ham V.i.279 an thou’lt mouth, / I’ll rant as well as thou
wouldst thou > woo’t Ham V.i.271 Woo’t weep?


Form Location Examples
he > ’a RJ I.iii.41 ’A was a merry man
it [after a word] > ’t Ham V.i.122 I do not lie in’t [also: to’t, for’t, is’t, on’t, etc]
it [before a word] > ’t Ham I.i.7 ’Tis now struck twelve [also: ’twere, ’twill, etc]
them > ’em Tem I.ii.330 each pinch more stinging / Than bees that made’em
thou > th’ Ham V.ii.336 As th’art a man
us > ’s Mac I.iii.124 to betray’s
you > y’ Tim I.ii.128 You see ... how ample y’are beloved

Determiners [articles and other noun specifiers]

Form Location Examples
his > ’s Mac II.ii.22 one did laugh in’s sleep [also: all’s, in’s, and’s]
our > ’r 1H4 II.iv.44 By’r lady
the > th’ Ham I.ii.9 our Queen, / Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state
this > ’s Ham III.ii.136 my father died within’s two hours


Form Location Examples
against > ’gainst 1H6 I.iv.15 A piece of ordnance ’gainst it I have placed
amidst > ’midst Luc 566 ’midst the sentence so her accent breaks
amongst > ’mongst 1H6 I.iv.50 great fear of my name ’mongst them
before > ’fore 1H6 I.iii.22 prizest him ’fore me
betwixt > ’twixt Tem I.ii.240 The time ’twixt six and now
in > ’i 1H4 II.iv.364 i’faith
over > o’er Mac I.iii.93 In viewing o’er the rest
of > ’o CE II.i.11 Because their business still lies out o’door
on > ’o Tem I.i.40 A pox o’your throat
to > t’ KL V.iii.185 t’assume a semblance / That very dogs disclaimed
with > wi’ RJ I.iii.33 To see it tetchy and fall out wi’th’ dug


Form Location Examples
because > ’cause H8 IV.ii.78 ’Cause the musicians play me that sad note


Form Location Examples
so > s’ Cor IV.vi.122 never / S’incapable of help

Elision in word-endings


Form Location Examples
-est > -’st Tem I.i.58 gape at wid’st COMPARISON


Form Location Examples
-est > -’st Tem I.ii.333 When thou cam’st first, / Thou strok’st me

Elision in lexical words

Initial single consonant

Form Location Examples
God > ’od AYL III.v.43 ’Od’s my little life SWEARING
yield > ’ild Mac I.vi.13 God ’ield us

Initial unstressed syllable

Form Location Examples
account E3 II.ii.164 The universal sessions call to ’count / This packing evil
agree MM IV.i.41 Are there no other tokens ... ’greed concerning her observance?
anoint MND III.ii.351 I have ’nointed an Athenian’s eyes
apothecary Per III.ii.9 Give this to the pothecary
array E3 III.iii.227 orderly disposed, and set in ’ray
arrest CE IV.ii.45 [he] is in a suit of buff which ’rested him
attend R2 IV.i.198 The cares I give, I have, though given away, / They ’tend the crown
begin Cym II.iii.20 Phoebus gins arise
behaviour TN III.iv.202 With the same ’haviour that your passion bears
belong AW IV.ii.42 It is an honour ’longing to our house
concern TS V.i.66 what ’cerns it you if I wear pearl and gold?
escape 1H4 II.iv.160 I have scaped by miracle
establish 1H6 V.i.10 the only means / To ... stablish quietness on every side

Medial single consonant

Form Location Examples
even > e’en TNK V.iv.99 e’en very here / I sundered you
never > ne’er RJ I.v.53 I ne’er saw true beauty
over > o’er Mac IV.i.144 The flighty purpose never is o’ertook
taken > ta’en TN III.iii.29 were I ta’en here, it would scarce be answered
whoever > whoe’er 1H6 I.iii.7 Whoe’er he be [also: howe’er, whate’er, soe’er, etc]

Medial syllable

Form Location Examples
countenance Cym III.iv.14 keep that count’nance still
interrogatory AW IV.iii.180 let me answer to the particular of the inter’gatories

Final single consonant

Form Location Examples
give > gi’ RJ I.ii.57 God gi’ good-e’en
have > ha’ TS V.ii.180 Well, go thy ways, old lad, for thou shalt ha’t

Final unstressed syllable

Form Location Examples
seven Mac I.iii.22 Weary sev’n-nights nine times nine