How Shakespeare Used Prepositions

In this excerpt from David Thatcher’s book Saving Our Prepositionswe see how Shakespeare used (and didn’t use) prepositions, and how prepositions’ meanings have changed since Shakespeare’s time.

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #470

As if the prepositions he inherited were not short enough, Shakespeare complicated matters by contracting them even further. So of becomes a (as in time a day), from becomes fro (now obsolete though we still use it in the idiom to and fro), in becomes i or ‘i (especially before the), before becomes ‘fore and over becomes o’er or even ore. Perhaps because they were both commonly abbreviated to ‘o, the prepositions on and of were frequently confused. Shakespeare sometimes felt the need to dispense with prepositions entirely: In Hamlet, for is omitted before me in “fear me not,” and during is omitted before which in the line “which time she changed snatches of old lauds” (Hamlet 1.3.51, 4.7.149).

The definitions listed in David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words provide, in parentheses, the modern preposition whenever it different from the one Shakespeare uses.

That was an excerpt from David Thatcher’s book Saving Our Prepositions, which appears here with permission from the author. The chapter goes on to list and explain the many prepositions used in Shakespeare.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.