He says:

... Therefore it is meet
That noble minds keep ever with their likes,
For who so firm that cannot be seduced?
(Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2)

Roughly means that you shouldn't pal around with bad guys, because they'll eventually seduce you into bad deeds.

Why is the verb in the italicized sentence omitted? Was/Is there an underlying rule to that?

  • 1
    I suggest that you read up on metre.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:23
  • 1
    In terse epigrammatic and proverbial style, the verb-to-be (who is so firm that ...) is sometimes dropped. Who so deaf as he that will not hear.. There is a second ellipsis: ... so firm that he cannot be seduced.
    – TimR
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:25
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt. "Who's so firm" would have been equally metrical.
    – fdb
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:27
  • 1
    @fdb point taken. In which case, the answer is, "only Shakespeare knows, and he's been dead forever". Either version is grammatical, and he has to pick something, and so he did, and here it is.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:33
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt Surely it means that the question needs reopening? Just because we don't know doesn't mean no-one else does. Oct 19, 2015 at 13:32

1 Answer 1


It's not as common in modern usage, but especially in poetry, copulae ("is", "are") and subject pronouns ("he", "they") can be omitted when the context makes the meaning clear. The clause could also be written

for who is so firm that they cannot be seduced?

But this doesn't fit into the meter. (Shakespeare liked iambic meters, i.e. lines of alternating unstressed-stressed syllables: "for who so firm that cannot be seduced?")

  • 1
    If don't say it, then someone else will: For who is so firm that he cannot be seduced?
    – cobaltduck
    Oct 19, 2015 at 19:44
  • Any guess as to why "who's" wasn't used? Was "who's" used at that time, or is this more modern? Oct 19, 2015 at 23:28
  • 3
    @michael: it may actually be a mis-transcription for "for who's so firm that cannot be seduced". They're pronounced almost (if not exactly) the same, and shortening is to 's was a contraction used by Shakespeare. Oct 20, 2015 at 1:26
  • 1
    @cobaltduck Why would you write that? The singular/indefinite they is much much much older than Shakespeare! Oct 21, 2015 at 7:49
  • 1
    @cobaltduck Evil it may be, but it's been an ordinary part of English since at least Chaucer! Oct 21, 2015 at 12:42

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