In sonnets from the Elizabethan period, "move" rhymed with "love" although they don't today. Recognizing that changes in spelling rarely keep up with changes in pronunciation, how were "move" and "love" pronounced in Early Modern English?

  • 1
    I have no good citation for this, but both rhymed with drove prior to the Great Vowel Shift. Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 18:43
  • @combread ninja: Does drove rhyme with love today?
    – user19148
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 20:51
  • 3
    I don't know the answer to your question, but bear in mind that poets and songwriters often use imperfect rhymes, so the fact that two words that don't quite rhyme are used as if they do doesn't prove that at that place and time they were pronounced differently.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 20:57

5 Answers 5


If you believe David Crystal's reconstructions of Elizabethan pronunciation, you can check out the Romeo and Juliet recording on this page. There both "love" and "remove" are pronounced with a vowel very much like that in the modern "love", but shorter. I know his work is well-respected enough that the Globe has used it in a few productions, but I believe it's not universally agreed with, so treat this with a moderate amount of skepticism.

  • According to the comments in this John Wells blog posting, Crystal says they had the IPA vowel [ɤ] in Shakespeare's time, which isn't very close to the modern pronunciation of "love", even though it's close to where [ʌ] is supposed to be on the IPA vowel chart. Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 22:22

Rhyming words based on spelling when they are not pronounced the same is called variously "eye rhyme", "sight rhyme", or "visual rhyme".

This may occur due to historical changes in word pronunciation, where words in the rhyme were once pronounced the same, but no longer are. However, it is also a valid poetic device; the presence of eye rhyme does not necessarily mean that the pronunciation of words has changed.

This resource indicates that the love/move/prove rhyme results from a change in pronunciation, but does not say which words changed.

According to "Early Modern English" by Charles Laurence Barber, the vowel o in love had already reached its current pronunciation /lʌv/ (same sound as in cup, luck), but an alternative pronunciation /lu:v/ was in common use by poets (same sound as in blue).


Certainly the following piece¹ is not a complete answer to your question, but, for the reason that there is an interesting fragment on the drift of "ove", I decided to post that as a little contribution.

In England the Great Vowel Shift, as it is generally and somewhat misleadingly called, happened later, roughly around the time of Chaucer. Textbook discussions of the shift can sometimes leave us with the impression that people pronounced their vowels in one way up to a certain date and then suddenly, as if on a whim, began pronouncing them in an altogether different way. But of course it was never as simple as that. Many of the pronunciation changes reflected changes that had begun centuries before in the time of King Alfred and some of them are not complete to this day. (Shove and move may one day be pronounced in the same way; it would make sense.) So, although it is true to say that these constituted some of the most sudden and dramatic changes English had ever undergone, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about a period that spanned, even at its most rapid, a couple of generations. When Chaucer died in 1400, people still pronounced the e on the end of words. One hundred years later not only had it become silent, but scholars were evidently unaware that it ever had been pronounced. In short, changes that seem to history to have been almost breathtakingly sudden will often have gone unnoticed by those who lived through them.

No one knows why this vowel shift happened. As Charlton Laird has succinctly put it: "For some reason, Englishmen started shoving tense vowels forward in their mouths. Then they stopped. And they have remained stopped. Nobody knows why they started or why they stopped." For whatever reasons, in a relatively short period the long vowel sounds of English (or tense vowels as Laird called them) changed their values in a fundamental and seemingly systematic way, each of them moving forward and upward in the mouth. There was evidently a chain reaction in which each shifting vowel pushed the next one forward: The "o" sound of spot became the "a" sound of spat, while spat became speet, speet became spate, and so on. The "aw" sound of law became the "oh" sound of close, which in turn became the "oo" sound of food. Chaucer's lyf, pronounced "leef," became Shakespeare's life, pronounced "lafe," became our life. Not all vowels were affected. The short e of bed and the short i of hill, for instance, were unmoved, so that we pronounce those words today just as the Venerable Bede said them 1,200 years ago.


Before the shift house was pronounced "hoose" (it still is in Scotland), mode was pronounced "mood," and home rhymed with "gloom," which is why Domesday Book is pronounced and sometimes called Doomsday. (The word has nothing to do with the modern word doom, incidentally. It is related to the domes- in domestic.) But as with most things, shifting vowel sounds were somewhat hit or miss, often because regional variations disrupted the pattern. This is most notably demonstrated with the "oo" sound. In Chaucer's day in London, all double o words were pronounced to rhyme with the modern word food. But once the pattern was broken, all kinds of other variations took hold, giving us such anomalies as blood, stood, rood, and so on. Most of these words were pronounced in different ways by different people from different places until they gradually settled into their modern forms, although some have never truly settled, such as roof and poof, which some people rhyme with goof and others pronounce with the sound in foot. A similar drift with "ove" accounts for the different sounds of shove, move, and hove.

¹ Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson, Penguin Book.

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    Bill Bryson is wrong about "Domesday" not being connected to "Doomsday," the Day of Judgement. See the Wikipedia article's mention of Richard FitzNigel in 1179.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 17:22

Hmmm.....I think you are referring to Sonnet 116, yes? Well then, let's see: first off, without going into a very long lecture about the Great Vowel Shift, let me summarize that William Shakespeare the man would have sounded absolutely nothing like what you hear from old recordings of the Royal Shakespeare Company, not even close. Unfortunately that very formal pronunciation is a leftover fron the 19th century. It did not occur to the performers and intelligentsia of London that their great Bard was from rural Warwickshire and had more in common in his accent with farmer's daughters acting as servants in their households than with their clipped RP; the same is incidentally true of a lot of the actors and writers in London circa 1594. Many of them spoke with their native dialect. Many of these (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Thomas Nashe, very likely Will Kempe) were born in the countryside and would have spoken normally onstage (a few pages of the handwritten piece of the play Sir Thomas More is thought to be Shakespeare's in part because his spelling reflects the spellings used at the time in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which in turn reflect his speech.)

So, without further ado, let me show you a rough approximation of what Shakespeare would have sounded like using Sonnet 145, spelling phonetically. (This is also one of the few poems we have of his where the world is 100% certain who it is addressed to-fifty points if you figure it out ;)

Those lips tha' luff's oon 'and did mek,

Breetht farth tha soond tha se' "I hey't" [glottal stop on t]

To me tha' laangwisht furr hurr sek,

Buh whain she sahhw me whoa-full stey't , [glottal stop on t]

Strey't in urr art did mare-seeee coom, [glottal stop on t in "straight"]

Choy-din' tha' toong tha', e'er swate,

Wuz yooused in givin' gin-tul doom,

An' taahh i'thus a-nyoo tuh graate [roll the r very slightly in "greet;" "taught" is totally transformed as "tahhh"]

"I hey't" she ahl turrd with an ainnd [flat a on first syllable of "altered," as in "cat'", another glottal stop on "hate"]

Tha followed i'as gin-tul deey,

Doth follow noy'it oooh, loik a faiined [barely pronounce the t in "night"]

Frum hee vun to hee-all is flone a-wheey.

"I hey't," frum hate a-whey she throo, [roll the r very slightly in "threw."]

An' sayft me loif, sayin' not ewe.

A lot does not work in the poem if you read it in RP or most modern English dialects: doom does not rhyme with come, sweet does not rhyme with straight, and generally reading it in RP throws off the timing (most speech in Shakespeare's time was rhotic: Swallowing the r's changes the flow of the words and the intonation of speech.) In fact, if you read the poem without the original pronunciation, you miss the likely addressee of the piece, because in RP nobody drops the d at the end of a word, like "hand". Shakespeare liked to hide little puns in both his plays and poems that come alive if you read it his way, and mining for them can be fun....who knows, perhaps to Shakespeare a woman wrapped in a tiger's hide is actually a woman wrapped in a tiger's EYED?


I have read that in the times before U and V were distinct letters, whenever a U and a V occurred together, it was common practice to draw a line over the one that was a vowel. So the words love and move were spelt something like mūue and lūue. Eventually, people's quick writing caused the ū to appear like an o. Later, the lower case v was introduced in place of the second u.

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    Have a source ? Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 7:06
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    How does this answer the question about pronunciation?
    – jwodder
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 23:33

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