The Concept Lies in the Subtleties

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A sonnet from Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet and a translated version will be used to analyze the function of affixes and how they are used to create new meanings and alter the context of the play. By looking closely at how affixes are used within the framework of the sonnet, we can then conclude how derivational and inflectional parts of speech are essential to the meaning and the plot of Romeo and Juliet

An affix consists of prefixes and suffixes that are added to base (root) words in order to create new grammatical information. Prefixes are added before the base word, which often times will create a new word entirely; whereas a suffix can be added at the end of a base word to modify the word’s part of speech. According to authors Martha Kolln, Loretta Gray, and Joseph Salvatore, “The term derivational refers to the change that a word undergoes when a derivational affix is added: Either the meaning of the word changes or the class, the part of speech changes-or both.” Similarly, “The inflectional affixes also change words, of course, but the changes do not represent new words in the same sense that the changes with derivational affixes do” (pg. 230-231). 

To begin, the opening line of Shakespeare’s sonnet, located in Act 1, Scene 5, uses the word profane as a verb in order to imply that Romeo is being disrespectful toward Juliet. In the self-altered text, the suffix “-ity” was used to create a noun and “express a state of being,” as stated by The Oxford English Dictionary. When “I” (the subject) is removed from the line’s original form and “-ity” is added, profanity then becomes the subject. This derivational change is a prime example of how to alter a term’s part of speech completely, as well as manipulate the context. The use of the noun profanity now shifts the foul behavior from Romeo to his hand specifically, which subtly alludes that Romeo’s hand has a life of its own. 

As we move further down to line 5, we see Juliet’s reply to Romeo- “… you do wrong your hand too much.” Her use of the word wrong is used as a verb, suggesting that Romeo is literally doing something incorrectly. However, when the suffix “-ly” is added, it then transforms the verb into an adverb. The word wrongly now suggests how Romeo has offended his own hand. The overall effect of using an adverb instead of a verb results in asserting more responsibility and blame onto Romeo’s actions. 

When looking at Shakespeare’s last line in his final stanza, the original use of the word despair is used as a noun in order to identify where Romeo’s “faith” is leading to. By adding a derivational suffix, such as “-ing,” it then morphs despair into an adjective. The context then describes Rome’s faith as being in a state of despair. To extend the meaning even further, the suffix “-ly” added on top of “-ing” then transforms despair into an adverb. The use of despairingly shifts the receiving end of despair from faith to turn. “Despairingly” functions by describing how Romeo’s faith is turning.  

In contrast, when analyzing the modern translated rendition of the same sonnet, we can see how derivational affixes differ in meaning when compared to the original text. For example, in the opening line, the word unworthy is used as an adjective. The base word, worth, functions as a noun. When adding the prefix “un,” meaning “not” and the suffix “-y,” which turns the noun into an adjective, it then creates a new meaning of the base word and indicates the object (Romeo’s hand) is underserving of Juliet’s touch. The term unworthy is directly related to Romeo’s hand; whereas in the original play, Shakespeare uses the word unworthiest, which has a slightly different meaning. Upon first glance, unworthiest is directly referencing Romeo’s hand, just as seen in the translation; however, the suffix “-iest” suggests that the object is being compared to multiple entities. Shakespeare subtly implies that when compared to not only Romeo’s other hand, but to all existing hands, the one which attempts to graze Juliet is the least deserving of all; thus, creating a more dramatic effect. 

Lastly, we can see how adding the suffix “-ing” to the term grant changes the subject of Romeo’s response to Juliet. Originally, grant is used as a verb and “my prayer” functions at the noun phrase. However, when we remove “so,” which is used as a conjunction and “please” functioning as an adverb, it then establishes “grant” as the subject when “-ing” is added. When a verb is acting as the subject, this is known as a gerund. The reader is now focusing on the solution, which is to grant, rather Romeo’s prayer-now functioning as the direct object. 

To conclude, affixes are not only used to create a new understanding of a base word, but it also has the ability to change a term’s part of speech. Whether a word is a noun, verb, adjective etc., is vital to the overall context which it is used in. Derivational affixes in particular effect who or what is receiving the action; thus, causing the reader to shift their focus. The subtle changes in words are what make a text meaningful.

– Chantal Carrera 

Original Version

Act I, Scene 5
1 If I profane with my unworthiest hand    A
  The profanity of my unworthiest hand

*profane (verb): profanity (noun)

*unworthiest (adjective)

2 This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:    B

3 My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand    A

4 To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.    B

5 Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,   C
  Good pilgrim, you wrongly do your hand too much,

* wrong (verb): wrongly (adverb)

6 Which mannerly devotion shows in this;    D

7 For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,    C

8 And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.    D

9 Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?    E

10 Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.    F

11 O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;    E

12 They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.    

     They pray—grant thou, lest faith turn despairing

    They pray— grant thou, lest faith turn despairingly.

* despair (noun): despairing (adjective): despairingly (adverb)

13 Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.    G

14 Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.    G

Modern Translation


Your hand is  like a holy place that my hand is  unworthy to visit. 

*unworthy (adjective) 

If you’re offended by the touch of my hand, my two lips are standing here like two blushing pilgrims, ready to make things better with a kiss. 


Good pilgrim, you don’t give your hand enough credit.  

By holding my hand you show polite devotion. 

After all, pilgrims touch the hands of statues of saints. 

Holding one palm against another is  like a kiss. 


Don’t saints and pilgrims have lips too? 


Yes, pilgrim-they have lips that they are supposed to pray with. 


Well then, saint, let lips do what hands do. I’m pray-ing for you to kiss me. 

Please grant my prayer so my faith doesn’t turn to despair. 

Granting my prayer will not turn my faith to despair. 

*granting (gerund)  


Saints don’t move, even when they grant prayers. 


Then don’t move while I act out my prayer. 

He kisses her. 


Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, 2002. EBSCOhost, 

Kolln, Martha, Loretta Gray, Joseph Salvatore. Understanding English Grammar Tenth Edition. Pearson Education Inc., 2016. 

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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