Functional shift

One of the most distinctive features of the English language, since the loss of inflectional endings in the early Middle Ages, is the formation of new words by changing their word class, or part of speech - a process variously known as functional shift or word-class conversion. In Shakespearean English the process is copiously illustrated, and includes many vivid and dramatic instances of linguistic creativity. In several cases (asterisked below), no earlier instances of the word, or of one of its usages, are recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and it can safely be assumed that a good proportion of these are Shakespearian creations.

Virtually any word class can be converted, and the texts show examples going in different directions

Item Location Example Comment
askance* Luc 637 they ... from their own misdeeds askance their eyes adverb to verb
beseech* TC I.ii.293 Achievement is command; ungained, beseech verb to noun
here* KL I.i.261 Thou losest here, a better where to find adverb to noun
impair* TC IV.v.103 he ... / Nor dignifies an impair thought with breath verb to adjective
kingdom* TC II.iii.173 Kingdomed Achilles in commotion rages noun to adjective
third TNK I.ii.96 what man / Thirds his own worth adjective to verb
where KL I.i.261 Thou losest here, a better where to find adverb to noun

Among the commoner types are adjectives used as verbs, generally expressing the notion of ‘to make [adjective]’ - for example, dumbed by him = ‘made dumb by him’.

Item Location Example Comment
coy Cor V.i.6 if he coyed / To hear Cominius speak  
craven* Cym III.iv.79 There is a prohibition so divine / That cravens my weak hand  
demure* AC IV.xv.29 Your wife ... shall acquire no honour / Demuring upon me  
dumb* AC I.v.50 what I would have spoke / Was beastly dumbed by him * in its transitive use
happy* Sonn 6.6 That use is not forbidden usury, / Which happies those that pay the willing loan  
muddy* AW V.ii.4 I am ... muddied in Fortune’s mood  
safe AC I.iii.55 that which most with you should safe my going, / Is Fulvia’s death  
tardy* WT III.ii.160 the good mind of Camillo tardied / My swift command  
The commonest form of conversion is noun-to-verb, with certain types of noun particularly involved. Most are concrete and specific in meaning, referring to people, their attributes, functions, and contexts. Indeed, one of the creative reasons for conversion is to find more vivid ways of expressing everyday notions, or of avoiding abstract locutions, as when lip a wanton replaces the mundane ‘kiss’, or godded me replaces ‘treat as a god’. It is very unusual to find an abstract noun converted to a verb, though a few examples are given at the end of the following list, which groups noun conversions into broad semantic types. Most of the usages can be glossed as ‘make ... into’, ‘treat ... as’, ‘use ... for’, ‘act as...’, and suchlike: for example, she Phebes me = ‘she treats me as Phebe’.

Names of people

Item Location Example Comment
Kate* TS III.ii.244 Petruchio is Kated * not in OED
Phebe* AYL IV.iii.40 She Phebes me * not in OED

Types of people, gods, animals, and other animate beings

Item Location Example Comment
boy AC V.ii.220 Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness  
bride TS III.ii.250 Shall sweet Bianca practise how to bride it?  
child KL He childed as I fathered  
companion* AC I.ii.31 companion me with my mistress  
duke MM III.ii.90 Lord Angelo dukes it well  
father KL He childed as I fathered  
friend Cym II.iii.46 be friended / With aptness of the season  
god Cor V.iii.11 This last old man ... godded me indeed  
jade* AC III.i.34 We have jaded out o’th’ field  
lackey AC I.iv.46 This common body ... / Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide  
out-villain* AW IV.iii.265 He hath out-villained villainy  
prince Cym III.iii.85 Nature prompts them / In simple and low things to prince it  
queen* WT IV.iv.446 I’ll queen it no inch farther  
spaniel AC IV.xii.21 The hearts / That spanieled me at heels  
stranger* KL I.i.204 Dowered with our curse and strangered with our oath  
uncle* R2 II.iii.86 uncle me no uncle * in sense of ‘address as uncle’
virgin* Cor V.iii.48 my true lip / Hath virgined it e’er since  
woman AW III.ii.50 the first face of neither ... / Can woman me unto’t  

Parts of the body

Item Location Example Comment
arm* Cym IV.ii.400 come, arm him * in sense of ‘take in one’s arms’
brain* Cym V.iv.147 such stuff as madmen / Tongue, and brain not * in sense ‘conceive in the brain’
ear TNK III.i.29 I eared her language  
eye AC I.iii.97 my becomings kill me when they do not / Eye well to you  
jaw* TNK III.ii.7 I reck not if the wolves would jaw me  
knee* Cor V.i.5 fall down, and knee / The way into his mercy * in transitive use in sense ‘bow’
lip* AC II.v.30 a hand that kings have lipped  
tongue* Cym V.iv.147 such stuff as madmen / Tongue *in sense of ‘utter’
womb WT IV.iv.487 all the sun sees or / The close earth wombs  


Item Location Example Comment
buckle TNK I.iii.57 Theirs [is] ... / More buckled with strong judgement  
corslet* TNK I.i.177 her arms ... shall / By warranting moonlight corslet thee  
glove* 2H4 I.i.147 A scaly gauntlet ... / Must glove this hand  

Descriptions of the body and its behaviour, feelings, or well-being

Item Location Example Comment
ballad* AC V.ii.216 scald rhymers / Ballad us out o'tune * in transitive use
bass* Tem III.iii.101 it did bass my trespass * in sense of ‘utter’
choir/quire* MV V.i.62 Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins  
compassion* Tit IV.i.124 can you hear a good man groan / And ... not compassion him  
dialogue* Tim II.ii.55 Dost dialogue with thy shadow?  
dower* KL I.i.204 Dowered with our curse  
fever* AC III.xiii.138 Henceforth / The white hand of a lady fever thee  
joy TNK IV.ii.63 Two greater and two better never yet / Made mothers joy  
lethargy* KL I.iv.225 his discernings are lethargied  
looks* Cym V.v.94 Thou hast looked thyself into my grace * in sense of ‘bring by looks into a certain condition’
medicine Cym IV.ii.243 Great griefs … medicine the less  
pageant* TC I.iii.151 he pageants us  
re, fa* RJ IV.v.117 I’ll re you, I’ll fa you  
sermon* Tim II.ii.177 Come, sermon me no further *first since an isolated usage in the early Middle Ages
word* Cym IV.ii.240 I’ll … word it with thee *first since an isolated usage in the early Middle Ages

Places where people live and die, and the objects they live with

Item Location Example Comment
barn* Luc 859 he sits, / And useless barns the harvest of his wits  
bench * KL thou ... / Bench by his side * in sense of ‘seat on a bench’
canopy* Cym II.ii.21 th’enclosed lights, now canopied under these windows  
chapel* TNK I.i.50 give us the bones ... that we may chapel them
couch TNK I.i.182 if thou couch / But one night with her  
cupboard Cor I.i.98 [of the belly] Still cupboarding the viand  
grave R2 III.ii.140 Those whom you curse ... lie full low, graved in the hollow ground  
hinge* Tim IV.iii.212 Be thou a flatterer now ... Hinge thy knee  
hovel KL IV.vii.39 wast thou fain ... / To hovel thee with swine  
label* TN I.v.235 every particle and utensil labelled to my will  
oar* Tem II.i.120 he ... oared / Himself with his food arms  
office* Cor V.ii.60 a Jack guardant cannot office me from my son * in transitive use
property* TN IV.ii.91 They have here propertied me  
sepulchre* TG IV.ii.114 Go to thy lady’s grave and call hers thence; / Or, at the least, in hers sepulchre thine  
skiff* TNK I.iii.37 they have skiffed / Torrents  
sty Tem I.ii.342 here you sty me / In this hard rock  
urn* TNK I.i.44 He will not suffer us to burn their bones, / To urn their ashes * in sense of ‘deposit in an urn’
window* AC IV.xiv.72 Wouldst thou be windowed in great Rome  

The environment

Item Location Example Comment
bower* RJ III.ii.81 thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend / In mortal paradise  
cave Cym IV.ii.138 It may be heard at court that such as we / Cave here, hunt here * in intransitive use
climate* WT V.i.169 whilst you / Do climate here  
mud* Tem V.i.151 Myself were mudded in that oozy bed  
shore* WT IV.iv.831 If he think it fit to shore them again * in sense of ‘put ashore’

Abstract notions

Item Location Example Comment
fortune AC I.ii.75 keep decorum, and fortune him accordingly  
grace R2 II.iii.86 grace me no grace  
necessity* AW V.iii.85 if her fortunes ever stood / Necessitied to help * not in OED
scandal JC I.ii.76 if you know / That I do fawn on men ... / And after scandal them * in sense of ‘revile’

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