Okay, so we seem to have established (with lots of great and generous help from StoneyB and Peter Shor) that:

    • where it came to certain diphthongs, Shakespeare either elided syllables that didn't fit into the line, or didn't, depending on the situation. (Specifically, we went over some words ending in -ious, but there are others, such as the word continually, which Shakespeare treats (in Richard III) as if it only had four syllables, not five).
    • that such "extra-metrical" (a term used by Robert Bridges in his long essay on John Milton's prosody) syllables are always unstressed (duh).
    • that the contemporary ear will accept some of those elisions, but might at the same time protest against others; i.e. should someone write and stage a play in verse today, he or she could treat such words as ceremonious as if they had four syllables rather than five without worrying that someone might accuse them of having written a silly-sounding Shakespearean pastiche.
    • that the reason some words resist such eliding (the word curious is three syllables; it can't be shortened to two, ever, full stop) SEEMS to have something to do with the consonant preceding the vowel in the unstressed syllable slated for elision. I tentatively proposed that "r" may be one such consonant.

My question, then, goes like this. Is there a rule or pattern that would enable one to create two lists of words: the first one consisting of words that can be shortened through elision; and the second one of words that can't.

Any and all answers will be greatly appreciated.

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    For future reference, I'll leave a link to the previous question where these facts were discussed: Shakespeare's Scansion
    – herisson
    Oct 29, 2015 at 6:39
  • I would be very surprised if there were any kind of rule about this. It probably just amounts to familiarity and habit. Many poets and lyricists feel free to take some liberaties with emphasis and syllabification to make words fit their needs.
    – Barmar
    Oct 30, 2015 at 20:16
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    This is a great question! Nov 14, 2015 at 10:02
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    We don't pronounce yods after /r/ in English today, so I would expect that ious after /r/ can't be reduced. Dec 29, 2015 at 21:58
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    How about after /d/? Shakespeare wrote: But yet be wary in thy studious care, which I have a hard time reading with two syllables. (Same for tedious and odious.) But Americans don't pronounce yods after /d/, while the British do, so this may be different in the U.K. Dec 29, 2015 at 21:58

2 Answers 2


Is there a rule or pattern that would enable to create two lists of words: the first consisting of words that can be shortened through elision; the second of words that can't ?

I don't think so because it's not a question of rule nor pattern nor decree but of current use. So if this list could proceed from observation, it shall admit exception. I doubt one could proclaim a prescription...


Metrical treatment of secondarily stressed, and weak, syllables varies among authors a great deal, and it is a matter of stylistics as much as it is of the synchronic state of the language. Shakespeare has much less elision than, say, John Donne whose contractions were extreme by comparison (and quite possibly reflected a different style of speaking.)

curious is indeed given metrically disyllabic variants in Shakespeare, in lines like the following

Hung by a curious Bauldricke, when he frownes

I am so fraught with curious business that

This is too curious-good, this blunt and ill:

If my slight muse do please these curious days,

In a most curious mantle, wrought by th' hand

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