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In Shakespeare's plays it is common to find contracted words, such as "o'er", "e'en", "sulph'uous", "ta'en". Is it just a literary device or those words were actually pronounced (in day-to-day speech) that way in Early Modern English?

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I am speculating, but it seems natural, that they were pronounced exactly like that, even in day-to-day speech, but in the case it was in iambic pentameter. ;) – Unreason Jun 1 '11 at 15:08
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Those are generally known as poetic tropes. When writing in iambic pentameter, it is necessary to alternate stressed and unstressed syllables, and measure feet to each line. Many of the contractions you see used by Shakespeare and other writers of the period are being employed to make the words fit a particular rhyming or verse scheme.

Some examples are given here, including this line by Donne:

That I / may rise / and stand / o'er throw / me and bend

You can see how the contraction makes the fourth foot work properly.

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Correct, but doesn't answer the question. – Colin Fine Jun 1 '11 at 14:41
@Colin, you are right, but the answer was accepted. :) – Unreason Jun 1 '11 at 15:08
Or the opposite when folk singers have to make it "californ-eye-ah" to fit the rhyme. – mgb Jun 1 '11 at 16:09
Well, it does, Colin - in the sense that "poetic convention" is signaled and the works in question were written to be spoken aloud. Any speech marked as "poetic" is normally understood to be common to that purpose (but not others). – The Raven Jun 2 '11 at 15:36

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