Irregular Verbs

The simple answer is: Any verb that doesn’t follow standard rules of conjugation. Unfortunately, there are so many “irregular” verbs in the English language that the title doesn’t really make sense. These grammar anomalies have been lurking in plain sight for yearsand they might just come naturally to you, but we’re still going to take a closer look.

Irregular Verbs and the Past Tense

Typically, it’s correct (and easy enough) to say the past tense of a verb ends in an “-ed.” For example, “I drop the kids off in the morning” in the present tense becomes, “I dropped the kids off this morning.” Or, “I scrub the dishes,” in the present changes to “I scrubbed the dishes” in the past tense. Those two letters added to the end of a word are a pretty good indicator of past tense.

Then you come across a verb like “speak.” In the present tense, you’d say, “I speak.” In the past tense, you would not say, “I speaked.” Instead, you’d say, “I spoke.”

Boom. You’ve just found an irregular verb. As you might have guessed, irregular verbs break the standard rule of ending in “-ed” in the past tense.

To further confuse the issue, irregular verbs have no discernible pattern themselves. They’re just … irregular. These irregular verbs are some of the most commonly used in English — “go,” “say,” “see,” “think,” “make,” “take,” “come,” and “know.” These workhorse verbs take on different spellings in the past tense.

In general, irregular verbs are easy enough to spot in the past tense — if it doesn’t end in “-ed,” it’s irregular.

Spotting More Irregular Verbs

Test yourself: Which of these examples of irregular verbs are correct?

  1. She drunk the glass of water.
  2. The phone rung and rung.
  3. The pants shrunk in the dryer.

Answer: Only number three is correct. In one, the correct past tense is “drank,” and in number two, the phone “rang.”

It’s still quite easy to get confused by irregular verbs, especially when you look at the difference between simple past tense and past participles.

For example, “Stacy drived to the public pool where she swum for hours.” Hopefully this sounds wrong to your ears, because it’s just an irregular mess.

There are two irregular verbs in this example, but neither is correct. The first is obvious – “drived” attempts to follow the regular verb “-ed” ending. It sounds awkward, because it’s not a real word at all. The correct (irregular) past tense is “drove.”

The second one is a little trickier. “Swum” is in fact the past participle of the verb “to swim,” but it’s not the simple past, which is “swam.”

The correct version of Stacy’s day at the pool is, “Stacy drove to the public pool where she swam for hours.”

As confusing as irregular verbs may seem, they start to come naturally with practice. What irregular verbs do you still stumble over?

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The Dash Family’s Roles

From: Daily Writing Tips

The en dash is the oft-neglected middle sibling of the horizontal-line family of symbols that serve to connect words and numbers for various reasons.

The em dash (—) is the dashing member of the brood, used somewhat sparingly to indicate a sudden break in syntax—either to signal a shift in sentence construction, as here, or joining with a twin to frame a parenthetical word or phrase (just as a pair of commas would be used in the midst of a sentence or two parentheses would be employed anywhere).

The smallest, the hyphen (-), is the busiest, indicating connections between words, such as when the phrase “highest scoring” is hyphenated to signal its combined modification of the word that follows in the phrase “highest-scoring player” or to link two numbers in reference to a score or vote.

The en dash (–), however, sometimes steps in to take the place of the hyphen: It is employed when an open compound is part of the phrasal adjective, signaling that the entire compound, not just the last word in the compound, is linked to the next word, as in “Civil War–era artifacts” (rather than “Civil War-era” or “Civil-War-era”) or “Los Angeles–to–San Francisco flight” (rather than in “Los Angeles-to-San Francisco flight” or “Los-Angeles-to-San-Francisco flight”).

Note, however, that open compounds need not be proper nouns, as this quip about an advertising agency with a name consisting of a sequence of initials demonstrates: “This alphabet soup–named firm helps get clients on the gravy train.” If a hyphen were used in place of an en dash here, the reference would (confusingly) be to a soup-named agency of an alphabet nature. (Also, some publishers, presumably for aesthetic reasons, employ en dashes in place of em dashes.)

The other major function of an en dash, by the way, is to replace to to indicate a number range, as in “Answer quiz questions 1–10.” (Remember that because scores are not number ranges, a hyphen is the correct symbol for linking two totals.) In both types of usage, a hyphen is often erroneously employed in place of an en dash (though for the sake of simplicity, some publications, especially newspapers, deliberately avoid use of the en dash).

Also, note that although both hyphens and en dashes are employed as minus signs, the minus sign is technically a distinct symbol that in formal publishing is set using a distinct code. In informal usage, an en dash, more equivalent in size to plus and equal signs than a hyphen, is preferable.

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16 Substitutes for “Because” or “Because Of”

Many words or phrases can be used to set up an explanation. The most common is because (or “because of”), but others have their uses. Here are alternatives and a discussion of their uses and their merits.

1. As: As is a direct synonym for because (for example, “He opted not to go see the movie, as it had gotten poor reviews”), but it’s inferior.

2. As a result of: This phrase is a substitute for “because of,” not because, as in “As a result of his intervention, the case was reopened and they were ultimately exonerated.”

3. As long as: This informal equivalent of because is used to express the thought that given that one thing is occurring or will occur or is true, another is possible, in such statements as “As long as you’re going, could you pick some things up for me?”

4. Being as (or being as how or being that): This phrase has the same sense — and the same formality — as “as long as.”

5. Considering that: This phrase is essentially identical in meaning to “as long as” and “being as” and its variants.

6. Due to: Like “as a result of,” “due to” is a preposition, rather than a conjunction like because, and is used in place not of because alone but instead of “because of.” It applies specifically to an explanation of why something occurred or will or will not occur, as in “Due to the large number of applications, we cannot respond individually to each applicant.”

7. For: This substitute for because is reserved for poetic usage, as in “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

8. Inasmuch as: This phrase is a very formal equivalent of because, as in “Inasmuch as his account has been discredited, I wouldn’t believe anything else he says.”

9. In view of the fact that: This phrase is identical in sense to “inasmuch as.”

10. Now that: This phrase informally connotes cause and effect, as in “Now that you’re here, we can proceed.”

11. Out of: This phrase applies to explanations of emotion or feeling — for example, “She asked out of compassion” or “Out of spite, I refrained from passing the message along.”

12. Owing to: This phrase is equivalent to “due to”; the two choices are more formal than “because of.”

13. Seeing that: This phrase is identical to “considering that.”

14. Since: This alternative to because is informal and is considered inferior because since primarily refers to elapsed time and the usage might be confused, as in “Since it had rained, we didn’t need to water the garden”; the reader might not realize until reading the second half of the sentence that the sense is causal rather than temporal.

15. Thanks to: This equivalent of “because of,” despite the wording, can apply to either a positive or a negative outcome; “Thanks to your meddling, we’re receiving much unwanted attention” demonstrates the latter sense.

16. Through: Through is a preposition; it takes the place of “because of,” as in “Through the efforts of these charities, the city’s homeless services have been reinstated.”

From: Daily Writing Tips If you would like a subscription to Daily Writing Tips please go to

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Have you ever heard of Scare Quotes?

Framing a word or phrase in scare quotes, or quotation marks used for emphasis, can be an effective tool for signaling editorial distance—that is, subtly and succinctly clarifying that the word or phrase is not of the writer’s choosing or that it is euphemistic or otherwise specious or spurious. However, too often, scare quotes are gratuitous or redundant, as shown in the examples below:

1. They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this “big picture” view.

This sentence features gratuitous use of scare quotes—gratuitous, because the writer seems to mistakenly assume that any idiom, no matter how quotidian, must be enclosed in quotation marks to signal that the meaning is not literal. The marks are unnecessary with most established idiom: “They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this big-picture view.”

2. The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called “front-line” units.

Here, the scare quotes are redundant. The quotation marks serve to inform the reader that the writer did not generate a word or phrase; rather, he or she is merely reporting a usage that someone else employed. But so-called signals this fact to the reader, so it is superfluous to use scare quotes as well. When such redundancy occurs, the writer (or editor) should opt to delete the scare quotes and retain so-called: “The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called front-line units.”

3. That same budget funded quote-unquote “crisis pregnancy centers.”

Using the phrase quote-unquote in speech is understandable, because scare quotes are not visible in speech—another approach is to use air quotes, hand gestures that suggest quotation marks—but in writing, doing so is an intrusive alternative to so-called: “That same budget funded so-called crisis pregnancy centers.” (In this case, however, because the writer is criticizing the use of the euphemistic phrase “crisis pregnancy centers” for a type of facility associated with deceptive advertising and misleading information, use of scare quotes in lieu of so-called is also appropriate.)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Parentheses serve several specific functions, but their general purpose is to set a grammatical unit of content off from the surrounding text. The parenthesized material can range from a single letter, numeral, or other symbol to an entire sentence. (Because enclosing more than one complete sentence in parentheses overextends the digression, it is not recommended.) Here is a summary of ways to deploy parentheses.

First, a definition of terms: Parenthesis denotes a single parenthetical mark, but it can also refer to a digression, interlude, or interval enclosed in parentheses or other pairs of punctuation marks, such as commas, dashes, or brackets. The first of two parenthetical marks is an open parenthesis, and the second is a close parenthesis. The pair together are called parentheses.

A parenthesis of an entire sentence can be inserted within another sentence, but omit a period after the parenthesized sentence (However, an exclamation point or question mark is acceptable!) to avoid confusion. (A complete sentence may also follow the terminal punctuation of the preceding sentence; in that case, include a period—or another terminal punctuation mark—immediately before the close parenthesis.) An incomplete sentence within parentheses is not punctuated with a period, but, again, an exclamation point or question mark is allowed.

When providing an explanation or an example, the additional information can be enclosed in parentheses. Note in the following sentence how a parenthesis of a parenthesis should be formatted. (The abbreviations e.g. [“for example”] and i.e. [that is”] generally precede such information in formal and scholarly prose; in more casual contexts, the phrases are employed.) This is general American English style; British English style (and legal style and style for some other contexts) is parentheses within parentheses.

Parentheses enclose the abbreviation of an acronym or initialism after the spelled-out name of an agency, company, or organization to inform the reader about how the entity will be identified on subsequent references: “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909.” (Note that the article the is not repeated in the parenthesis, but it should precede the initialism when it appears again.)

Parentheses are used to enclose a note when a reader is directed to a cross-reference or when a writer glosses (presents a brief definition of) a term, provides a citation for a quotation or a fact or figure, points out that he or she has used italics to emphasize part of a quoted passage, or otherwise annotates a quotation.

Note that the location of the parenthesis in the following sentence is awkward: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ should serve on the committee (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations).” Parenthesized annotation, just like additional information enclosed in a pair of commas or dashes, should immediately follow the relevant word or phrase, as here: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations) should serve on the committee.”

Back-to-back parenthesis is acceptable, but this can be avoided by combining two pieces of information into one parenthesis divided by a semicolon or by reorganizing the framing text to separate the two parenthetical comments.

When the items in a run-in list (a list appearing within a sentence rather than formatted vertically) are numbered, they should be enclosed in a pair of parentheses (not with a close parenthesis only)—as in “The three types of rocks are (1) igneous, (2) metamorphic, and (3) sedimentary”—but numbering is seldom necessary.

Use parentheses in moderation; excessive deployment of the symbols can give text a cluttered appearance (note their ubiquity in this post) and result in an obstacle-ridden narrative flow. Often, a pair of commas will suffice in their place, and dashes are appropriate when abruptly interjecting additional information, especially when the writer wants to give an impression of sudden interruption rather than unassuming interpolation.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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15 Reduplicative Doublets

Reduplicative doublets are a small class of idioms in which a word is repeated after the conjunction and; such repetition is intended to provide an emphatic boost to a statement. Here are fifteen such constructions with definitions and sample sentences.

1. Again and again: repeatedly (“I practiced the maneuver again and again so that I didn’t have to think about what I was doing”)

2. By and by (or by-and-by): later, or eventually (“I think he’ll come around to our way of thinking by and by”)

3. Done and done: done thoroughly and satisfactorily (“The team avenged its loss with a decisive victory — done and done”)

4. Ever and ever: always, or seemingly so (“I had to wait for ever and ever for my car to get fixed”)

5. Half and half: in equal parts; also, a food or drink made of two often equal ingredients, or a mixture of cream and milk, or a person of dual nationality or mixed ethnicity (“She likes half and half in her coffee”)

6. Hot-and-hot: multiple courses of food served individually as soon as cooked (“The catered meal was served hot-and-hot”)

7. Less and less: increasingly less, progressively decreasing, or decreasingly true or prevalent (“I’m less and less confident of success as the days pass”)

8. More and more: increasingly more, progressively increasing, or increasingly true or prevalent (“It’s getting more and more difficult to find in stores”)

9. Neck and neck: very close in a contest or race, suggesting two horses whose necks are side by side (“The candidates are polling neck and neck lately”)

10. On and on: continuously (“The speaker droned on and on beyond her allotted time”)

11. Out-and-out: complete or utter (“That’s an out-and-out lie!”)

12. Over and over: repeatedly (“He said it over and over, to make sure I understood”)

13. So-and-so (or so and so): a placeholder name for a person (often initial-capped), a placeholder word for one or more things, or a euphemism for an offensive epithet (“I talked to So-and-so — that guy over there”)

14. Such-and-such: a placeholder for a thing or action (“If you were to go to such-and-such a place, you’d find the building”)

15. Through and through: see out-and-out (“He’s a loser through and through”)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Direct object, grammar, Intransitive, Transitive, verbs, writing

A verb can be described as transitive or intransitive based on whether it requires an object to express a complete thought or not. A transitive verb is one that only makes sense if it exerts its action on an object. An intransitive verb will make sense without one. Some verbs may be used both ways.

The word transitive often makes people think of transit, which leads to the mistaken assumption that the terms transitive and intransitive are just fancy ways of describing action and nonaction. But these terms have nothing to do with whether a verb is active or not. A better word to associate when you see transitive is transfer. A transitive verb needs to transfer its action to something or someone—an object. In essence, transitive means “to affect something else.”

Once you have this concept committed to memory, spotting the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is quite easy.

How to Identify a Transitive Verb

Transitive verbs are not just verbs that can take an object; they demand objects. Without an object to affect, the sentence that a transitive verb inhabits will not seem complete.

Please bring coffee.

In this sentence, the verb bring is transitive; its object is coffee, the thing that is being brought. Without an object of some kind, this verb cannot function.

Please bring.

Bring what, or who? The question begs itself because the meaning of bring demands it.

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs and their objects.

The girls carry water to their village.

Juan threw the ball.

Could you phone the neighbors?

I caught a cold.

She loves rainbows.

Lila conveyed the message.

Each of the verbs in these sentences have objects that complete the verbs’ actions. If the objects were taken out, the results would be illogical and questions would be raised in the mind of the reader; for example, Lila conveyed. Conveyed what?

How to Identify an Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is the opposite of a transitive verb: it does not require an object to act upon.

They jumped.

The dog ran.

She sang.

A light was shining.

None of these verbs require an object for the sentence to make sense, and all of them can end a sentence. Some imperative forms of verbs can even make comprehensible one-word sentences.



A number of English verbs can only be intransitive; that is, they will never make sense paired with an object. Two examples of intransitive-only verbs are arrive and die. You can’t arrive something, and you certainly can’t die something; it is impossible for an object to follow these verbs.

Transitive or Intransitive? Some Verbs Can Be Both

Many verbs can be classified as both transitive and intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.

Urged by the others, she sang.

She sang the national anthem at the hockey game.

After he cleaned up, he left.

He left the gift on the table.

To decide whether the verb is being used transitively or intransitively, all you need to do is determine whether the verb has an object. Does she sing something? Does he leave something? The verb is only transitive when the answer is yes.

When in doubt, look it up. In the dictionary, verbs will be listed as transitive, intransitive, or both right under the pronunciation key, and any possible differences in meaning between the two uses will be given as well.

Phrasal Verbs and Transitivity

Phrasal verbs can also be classified as transitive or intransitive.

Cindy has decided to give up sweets while she diets.

I hope Cindy doesn’t give up.

Give up is just one of many phrasal verbs that can be transitive or intransitive. Whether give up has an object or not will alter the meaning it conveys. The first sense of give up means “to forgo something,” whereas the second sense means “to stop trying.”

If we refuse to learn about transitivity, the Grammar Police will blow up our building.

When the Grammar Police confronted her about her verbs, she blew up.

The first sense of to blow up means to explode, whereas the second sense means “to express rage.”

Transitive or intransitive is just one of the many classifications a verb can have. Perhaps you will be inspired to read about more about the fascinating qualities of verbs.



Catherine Traffis


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How do you represent various sounds in writing? The term for vocal (and written) imitation of sounds, onomatopoeia, means “to make names.” (The word, a Latinization of a Greek word, consists of the term that is also the origin of name, nominal, and the like and the one from which poem and poet are derived.) But making names is complicated by the fact that spelling of sounds is arbitrary.

Various languages represent common sounds with uncommonly assorted words. What in English would be spelled chomp or munch is in Indonesian krauk and in Japanese musha-musha. Shh, or hush, is translated as psszt in Hungarian and cht in Spanish. Achoo! is spelled apchix in Bulgarian and achhee! in Hindi. Sometimes — for instance, because a frog in one country is a different species from one in another country and therefore may actually make a different sound — this variation is logical. But often (look up the various representations for meow around the world) the differences are perplexing.

But even within one language, a writer is challenged by the ambiguity of sounds. How, exactly, does one spell a yell? That word itself is onomatopoeic, but “Yell!” is not a yell. A cry of anger is distinct from one of fear. And an exclamation of pain could be spelled starting with an a (“Aughhh!”), an o (“Owww!”), or a y (“Yeow!”).

Some variation from what a reader may be accustomed to is reasonable: If I routinely spelled an archvillain’s triumphant evil laugh “Bwah-hah-hah!” I would be distracted but not derailed to see it treated as “Muah-ha-ha!” But “Myau” would not alert me to the presence of a cat; in English, either the spelling above or the British English preference, miaow (or mew, a variation suggesting a gentler cry) is standard.

But how do I know that? The compositional catch-22 — “How can I look something up in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it?” — may come into play, especially when the word starts with a vowel. But that’s step number one: Look it up. Is a donkey’s bray spelled “Hee haw”? Type the word into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you’ll learn whether your guess is validated. (In this case, English is in the minority among languages, most of which begin spelling of that sound with a vowel.) Or rely on your reading — whether your sources are science journals or comic books, some standard is likely to prevail.

Neologisms or words not generally granted legitimacy in writing (fuggedaboudit, anyone?) can be a challenge, but try an online search if you’re not sure. You’ll likely get a response for more than one alternative, but apply the quality test, not the quantity test: Judge the preferred spelling not on which is most frequent, but which is used on the most authoritative (or least questionable) sites.

But in the right circumstance, go ahead and take a chance. If you desire, for example, that a character respond to another’s cattiness, a flat utterance of “Meow” may convey the first person’s cynical understatement, whereas “Reerrrrrrrrrrr!” will, despite its lack of resemblance to the standard spelling, clearly evoke an unambiguous judgment about the second character’s provocative statement or behavior.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Hyphenating Prefixes

A reader who works with legal transcription has the following question:

There seems to be a trend towards having the prefixes and suffixes separate from the modified noun instead of being attached or hyphenated. What is proper?  Some examples are non negotiable, post surgery, post doctorate, age wise.

The examples given present a variety of forms, not all of which represent a prefix+noun combination.

The prefix non- is added to nouns of action, condition, or quality with the sense of “absence, lack of,” or simply “not.” for example, non-Catholic.

Non- is affixed to adjectives to make them negative. Whether to add a hyphen depends upon whether American or British usage is being observed. The OED hyphenates many words that M-W shows written as one word. For example, M-W gives nonnegotiable, but OED has non-negotiable.

When it comes to another word in the reader’s list, however, both the OED and M-W agree with postdoctorate, although both prefer postdoctoral.

The prefix post- means, “after” or “behind.” It is added to adjectives without a hyphen: postcolonial, postsurgical. Post can be used on its own as a preposition meaning, “after”: “Your mouth will be extremely dry post surgery.” In this context post is a separate word. Added to a noun to create a descriptor, however, post would require a hyphen: “Post-surgery care is vitally important.”

The suffix -wise means, “in the manner of” or “as regards,” as in clockwise, lengthwise, foodwise, etc. This combining form is never separated from the word it’s added to, either by a hyphen or by a space. It can have other meanings, of course. For example, a person is said to be “penny wise, but pound foolish.” In this context wise is a word that means “possessing wisdom”; it is not a suffix.

Hyphenation is not an exact science. Authorities differ regarding the necessity of a hyphen, but I’m reasonably sure that all agree that suffixes aren’t free agents that can stand apart from the words to which they belong.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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12 Misunderstood and Misquoted Shakespearean Expressions

From: Daily Writing Tips

The plays of William Shakespeare provide a wealth of pithy sayings — many of which he likely popularized rather than produced himself, though we may still be grateful to him for sharing them. Unfortunately, sometimes the original sense is adulterated by careless usage, so that the eloquent force of the expression is weakened. Here are a dozen of Shakespeare’s phrases with comments about their original wording and meaning:

1. “At one fell swoop”

This phrase from Macduff’s grief-stricken lamentation about the murder of his family in Macbeth uses the archaic word fell, meaning “fierce,” to extend the metaphor of the perpetrator (who he calls a “hell-kite”) as a bird of prey. Modern usage is generally more casual and even comical.

2. “Brave new world”

This phrase from a speech by Miranda, daughter of the wizard Prospero in The Tempest, naively uses brave in the sense of “handsome” when she first lays eyes on other men. The subtext in Shakespeare is that those she refers to are superficially attractive but substantially deficient in character. The sense is the same in the phrase as it appears in the title of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic. Unfortunately, the dark sarcasm is being dulled by use of the phrase to blithely herald a bright future.

3. “Foregone conclusion”

From Othello, this phrase means literally something that has already occurred (it has “gone before”); now, the phrase often refers to a conjectural event.

4. “Gild the lily”

This misquotation from King John, which actually reads, “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily . . . is wasteful and ridiculous excess,” confuses the metaphor, because lilies are white, not gold.

5. “Lead on, Macduff”

This misquotation from Macbeth, in which the title character baits his nemesis to attack him by saying, “Lay on, Macduff,” is now a variation of “After you” — quite a diversion from the original intent.

6. “The milk of human kindness”

This metaphor, employed in the service of a heartwarming connotation, would rouse the wrath of Lady Macbeth, whose reference to the virtue in the play named for her husband was contemptuous.

7. “More honored in the breach than the observance”

This phrase from Hamlet has been twisted by time to mean an admirable custom that is neglected more often practiced. Shakespeare’s sense was of a deplorable custom that should be halted. The expression immediately follows another well-known but oft-misunderstood phrase: Hamlet refers to himself as one “to the manner born,” meaning “brought up to follow the custom,” but some people believe the phrase, when expressed out of context, to be “to the manor born,” referring to one raised in the opulent surroundings of a manor house.

8. “Neither rhyme nor reason”

The modern focus is on the second element of this phrase from The Comedy of Errors, but the intent is to express a lack both of sense and of eloquence.

9. “Sea change”

This expression from The Tempest refers to a deadly shift in weather, but now the sense of peril has been replaced by a connotation of significant transformation.

10. “Third degree”

Shakespeare’s humorous reference in Twelfth Night to someone “in the third degree of drink” harks to the principle of degrees in natural philosophy, which assigns the third degree to the penultimate level of intensity. The modern sense is of merciless interrogation, though it’s usually employed in a lighthearted tone.

11. “What the dickens”

Some of those unfamiliar with the origin of this expression — The Merry Wives of Windsor — assume it has a Victorian provenance and refers to Charles Dickens. But dickens is an Elizabethan euphemism for the devil, and Shakespeare employs it as an oath.

12. “The world’s mine oyster”

The usual assumption is that one can easily lay the world wide open and extract its contents. But the boast in The Merry Wives of Windsor goes on to say, “Which I with sword will open,” expressing the partaker’s more active — and more violent — role.

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