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I am kind stuck when reading a sonnet:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

There are several words that are very weird.

Example : Consum'd, perceiv'st, see'st.

I try to search online and find that they are equal to the same word without the ',

so I am wondering why we have the ' and when we see the english word with ', will the same rule apply? (removing the ')

Thank you so much

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    It's another way of spelling the letter "e" in old texts. More specifically, of spelling the vowel /ə/, or the schwa, which is often so subtle it barely feels like a vowel. "'d" or "ed" for the past tense, and "'st" or "est" for the second person present tense ("thou") Aug 26, 2022 at 5:28
  • Consum'd, perceiv'st are not the same as the word without the apostrophe - there is no word consumd or perceivst.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 26, 2022 at 9:26
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    This is a reasonable question to ask but it is such a basic matter that it belongs on English Language Learners.
    – Anton
    Aug 26, 2022 at 16:37

1 Answer 1

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The aforementioned sonnet is Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, most likely written in the 1590s; this goes a long way towards explaining the apostrophe. This is because in the early 16th century (16th century being 1501-1600), the apostrophe was used to indicated omitted letters in a word; and Shakespeare, being a writer in that period, often used these omissions in his texts - some examples being 'tis, 'twill, and 'twas.

However, these apostrophes were not only to indicate omission; in some cases, it was used to indicate where pronunciation was not needed instead. An example being the usage of "wand'ring" in Shakespeare's work - the omission isn't simply to write one less "e", instead it serves as an indicator for then-actors (who would read and act out Shakespeare's work) to pronounce the word "wandering" as wand-ring instead of wan-der-ing.

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  • Thank you for the explanation. So, as people mentioned in the chat? I could just understand the ' as another version for e? Thanks
    – James
    Aug 26, 2022 at 6:16
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    Yes, the apostrophe in fact commonly substitutes for vowels, not just e, in texts from that period; and it directs pronunciation as well.
    – whiffer
    Aug 26, 2022 at 6:20
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    A sonnet isn't for acting, but it does have a set number of syllables (10) per line. The apostrophe indicates that 'seest' should be pronounced as one syllable, not the more usual 'see-est'. People in Shakespeare's time may have pronounced the '-ed' on the end of words like 'consumed'. Of course we still use an apostrophe to indicate an omitted letter, as in don't, he's etc. Aug 26, 2022 at 7:39
  • Well observed that sonnets weren't to be acted out back then. I'll change the answer for clarity's sake later.
    – whiffer
    Aug 26, 2022 at 8:13

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