I understand that 'withal' can be used as a preposition at the end of a clause to mean 'with' or 'therewith' but it can, I think, also be used to mean 'in addition' or 'together with'.

Concerning the latter meaning, I'm trying to write a poem and wish to use something like the following:

He wax'd in stature great withal.

to mean "He additionally waxed great in stature".

However, does this make any sense?

  • Personally, I'm most familiar with it being used to mean nevertheless, notwithstanding - but whatever meaning you want "withal" to have, it would inevitably require more context than you've given here for anyone else (us here on ELU, or those reading your poem in the future) to interpret it unambiguously. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '13 at 17:41
  • I think perhaps you should edit your question text to either provide more context (explain what meaning you want it to have), or make it a more general question about how "withal" might be used today. As things stand I don't think "does this make any sense?" is really a valid ELU question. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '13 at 19:29
  • Yes, sorry - I accidentally hit return before finishing my reply. Here's what I was going to say afterwards: I was thinking of writing something like: "Four cubits tall and half a span, He waxed in stature great withal." as the second half of one stanza (the poem being in long metre). I don't really mind if this is ambiguous - as long as there is at least one coherent meaning it could convey! (Preferably that the person referenced is fairly tall and has also grown great in stature - 'stature' here not solely being a reference to height but also more generally to standing.) – Alex Proctor Nov 9 '13 at 19:35
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    It's a curious word (I'd also say it's archaic, but obviously that needn't matter in a poetic context). My guess is it often doesn't really mean anything at all in such more recent usages as exist (except to add "medieval" overtones to text). But "historically accurate" senses include both likewise and nevertheless, which to me are practically opposite meanings. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '13 at 20:50
  • Going off on a tangent somewhat, but that's not old English (much less Old English). Something that's supposed to emulate Early Modern English, perhaps. But since you are writing it now it's really just Modern English. The apostrophe does nothing, by the way; I suppose that's a typo since your comment does not have it. (But in case it isn't, get rid of it anyway. It is meant to indicate a syllable that is swallowed to maintain metre, but there is no syllable to be swallowed there, so it ends up indicating pretentiousness instead.) – RegDwigнt Nov 9 '13 at 21:45

Poetry writes its own rules. But if I saw "wax'd" in the same line with "withal," I would not be inclined to interpret "withal" in the one non-archaic sense that survives today (which Merriam-Webster's gives as "together with this: besides"). Rather I would suppose that it was being used in one of two archaic senses—either to mean "therewith" or to mean "nevertheless."

Other readers might associate it with the Shakespearean meaning "with," as in Rosalind's line in As You Like It:

I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.

Merriam-Webster's specifically observes that "withal" in this sense must be "used postpositively with a relative or interrogative pronoun as object"—which is why when Orlando asks "I prithee, who doth he trot withal?" Rosalind answers "Marry, he trots hard with [not "withal"] a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized"—but I wouldn't count on my readers' understanding that fine point of usage.

If your goal is to sound oldish but not altogether archaic in this poem, I think you might do better with "beside" (in place of "withal"), though you'd have to move it after "wax'd" if you wanted to retain the line's meter:

He wax'd beside in stature great.

...but this maneuver creates complications of its own, since "beside" (as a preposition) meaning "besides" (as a preposition) is modern English, but "beside" (as an adverb) meaning "besides" (as an adverb) is archaic, according to Merriam-Webster's.

If you don't mind sounding up-to-date, you could simply (and clearly) end your original line with "besides" or "as well" in place of "withal."

  • Thanks very much. I suppose my problem is that I'm quite attached to the first two lines of the stanza that I've already written and therefore need this line to end with a word which rhymes with withal! Is withal in the besides sense not archaic though? My only familiarity with the word is through the Authorised Version of the Bible and it seems to be used in the besides sense in 1 Samuel 16:12, 1 Kings 19:1 and Acts 25:27 for example. My concern is that by using withal at the end of the line it's more likely to be interpreted in the with sense as in your quote from Shakespeare. – Alex Proctor Nov 14 '13 at 21:57
  • "Withal" in the sense of "besides" is not archaic, per Merriam-Webster's. Realistically, the "with" meaning doesn't make sense (as nearly as I can tell) in the context of your line; so if you can tolerate the possible misinterpretation of "withal" as meaning "nevertheless" rather than "in addition to," you should be good to go. I wouldn't worry too much about the issue of archaic versus non-archaic here: "Archaic" really just means "no longer in everyday use"; not "incomprehensible to most readers." – Sven Yargs Nov 14 '13 at 22:47

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