Shakespeare phrases that we still use today

William Shakespeare is the greatest English poet and writer who’s ever lived. Although he died 400 years ago, there are hundreds of words and phrases Shakespeare invented that we still use today. Native speakers use them all the time, without realizing where they come from. Let’s learn some!


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Phrases Shakespeare Invented Video 1

We have something different this week. We’re looking at phrases invented by William Shakespeare. Yeah, really. You’re going to learn from Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare is the greatest English writer and poet who’s ever lived. He died 400 years ago, but here’s the thing. We’re still using phrases and expressions that he invented today.
So let’s look at some. First one.
We often use this phrase when we’re telling a story. It means quickly and unexpectedly. Shakespeare used it to talk about how fast we can fall in love because that can happen quickly and suddenly.
Falling in love is a nice surprise, but we can use this phrase with bad surprises too – things that shock us. For example, all of a sudden, an alarm went off.

The lights went out and all of a sudden, I someone grabbed my neck.
The lights went out and all of a sudden, I someone grabbed my neck.

Next one?
Shakespeare wrote a play about a man called Macbeth. Macbeth was a murderer. He killed four people and his wife, Lady Macbeth, encouraged him to do it. She said, ‘Go on kill them. It’ll be good for us’. So he did, but after the murders, Macbeth felt badly about it and his wife wanted to comfort him, so she said ‘What’s done is done’.
Can you guess what she meant? We say this when we want to point out that you can’t change something that’s already happened. So if you spill some milk, there’s nothing you can do about it, and I might say ‘Forget it. Move on. What’s done is done’.

That’s great, Sally. Bye. Sally’s coming to our party.
You invited Sally?
Yes.
Oh no.
What’s the matter?
Well Peter’s coming. He hates Sally. She dumped him.
Well it’s too late now. What’s done is done.
What’s done is done.

OK, here’s another expression from the play Macbeth. One of the characters gets tragic news – terrible sad news. All his family have been killed at once – all of them at the same time, in one go.
And that’s the meaning of ‘in one fell swoop’. We say it when a lot of bad things happen at the same time, as the result of a single action.

I’ve got terrible news.
What’s happened?
You know I told you there’s new management at the company.
Yeah?
Well, they let everyone go.
Everyone?
Yes. They laid off 300 people in one fell swoop.
Oh my.
They laid off 300 people in one fell swoop.
Oh my.

Let’s have a happier phrase now. We use this expression to say something happened by chance. These days we normally say ‘as luck would have it’, so we drop the word ‘good’. It means by lucky chance. Let’s see it in action.

We’ve had a difficult month.
Yes. First the car broke down.
That cost a thousand dollars to fix.
And then we had medical bills.
Another thousand dollars.
We didn’t know how we were going to pay the electric bill.
But as luck would have it, I won a prize in the lottery.
Amazing!
Two thousand dollars!
But as luck would have it, I won a prize in the lottery.

OK, I’ve got two more for you. Here’s one Shakespeare used in several plays. Now here the word ‘fair’ means treating people equally, in the right way. If a game is fair, then everyone has an equal chance of winning. And playing fair – that means following the rules of a game and not cheating. So if someone cheats, it’s not fair play.

Oh hurry up Jay.
Just a second.
Hey, what are you doing?
I’m looking in the dictionary.
But that’s cheating. He has no sense of fair play.
He has no sense of fair play.

Our last phrase is the opposite of fair play and Shakespeare invented this expression too. Foul play is when you do something dishonest and unfair. Footballers are sometimes sent off because of foul play. But foul play has another common meaning today. If someone dies and it wasn’t an accident or natural death, it’s foul play. So it’s is some kind of violent criminal action that results in a death.

What do you think?
He’s dead.
Yes, but what happened?
Hmm. Maybe it was suicide.
Really? I think there was foul play.
You think?
I think there was foul play.
You think?

Now there’s an interesting thing about all these phrases and expressions. Native English speakers just say them, and we don’t normally know that they come from William Shakespeare. And there are hundreds more phrases that he invented, so we’re planning to make another video on this topic. Let us know in the comments if that’s a good idea. And if you enjoyed this video please share it with a friend who’s also learning English. And make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss our future videos. See you next week everyone.

Click here to see more vocabulary videos
Click here to see our videos on prefixes and suffixes
Click here to see videos with more everyday English expressions

4 thoughts on “Shakespeare phrases that we still use today

  • November 11, 2017 at 10:49 pm
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    I think phrases and expressions are more useful than words!
    Looking forward to your new videos about useful and commonly used phrases and expressions!

    Reply
    • November 12, 2017 at 12:42 am
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      Oh this is such and interesting comment, Xiaojian! The thing is there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that learning phrases is at the heart of language learning, so children learning their mother tongue will learn set phrases first and then induct the rules. Many thanks for this.

      Reply
  • November 19, 2017 at 11:28 am
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    Fantastic as ever! Very good idea to have Shakespeare in from all points of view. It is so nice to know more about phrases we use, it gives certain “warmth” to the language.
    And very good video, as always.
    Looking forward to next videos. May be after Shakespeare other writers and poets would move in… and maybe some time later we will have a new page like “English for lovers of literature and poetry” with short quotations so often used without a slightest idea who they belong to !
    Keep well!

    Reply
    • November 19, 2017 at 12:57 pm
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      Thanks Nadja! And what great ideas! They are much appreciated. A wonderful thing about teaching English is there are so many possibilities.

      Reply

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