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Epic · Lyric · Drama
Romance · Satire
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Prose · Verse

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Prose is the most typical form of language. The English word 'prose' is derived from the Latin prōsa, which literally translates as 'straight-forward.' While there are critical debates on the construction of prose, its simplicity and loosely defined structure has led to its adoption for the majority of spoken dialogue, factual discourse as well as topical and fictional writing. It is commonly used, for example, in literature, newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, broadcasting, film, history, philosophy and many other forms of communication. In fact, much of this article is written in prose.



Prose lacks the more formal structure of a poem, in the guise of either a meter or rhyme, but instead comprises full sentences, which then constitute paragraphs. Although some works of prose do contain traces of metrical structure or versification, a conscious blend of the two forms of literature is known as a prose poem. Similarly, poetry with fewer rules and restrictions is known as free verse. Poetry is considered to be more systematic or formulaic, whereas prose is the most reflective of ordinary speech. On this point Samuel Taylor Coleridge requested, jokingly, that novice poets should "remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order."[1] In Molière's play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Monsieur Jourdain asked for something to be written in neither verse nor prose. A philosophy master replied that "there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse," for the simple reason being that "everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose." [2]


Several examples of prose and verse can be found in the works of William Shakespeare, and those below are two famous extracts from Hamlet. The format of the first piece can be misleading, but a closer inspection reveals that the speech is actually a complete paragraph and lacks any consistent syllabic structure or rhyming. If read aloud, Hamlet's speech, "What a piece of work is man," would resemble a typical piece of written or spoken English. By contrast, his later monologue, "To be, or not to be," has a meter: there are a given number of syllables that occur at regular intervals, but since there is no rhyming of words, it is an example of blank verse.



    I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
    prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
    and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
    wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
    custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
    with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
    earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
    excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
    o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
    with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
    me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
    What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
    how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
    express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
    in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
    world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
    what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
    me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
    you seem to say so.

    —The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II, Scene ii, 285-300).


    To be, or not to be,–that is the question:–
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them?–To die,–to sleep,–
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to,–’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d. To die,–to sleep;–
    To sleep! perchance to dream:–ay, there’s the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

    —The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act III, Scene i, 56-67).


  1. ^ "Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1913)". University of Chicago reconstruction.. Retrieved 31-01-2010. 
  2. ^ "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.". English translation accessible via Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 31-01-2010. 

See also

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Simple English

For the Wikipedia guideline on prose, see Wikipedia:Manual of Style.

Prose is the ordinary form of the written (or spoken) language.[1] Not poetry, and not any special format such as lists or tables. In writing, it is without special rhythm, and is similar to everyday communication. That makes the most important distinction with poetry, and with theatrical works such as plays.

The word prose comes from the Latin prosa, meaning straightforward, hence the term "prosaic". Prose writing is usually adopted for the description of facts or the discussion of whatever one's thoughts are, incorporated in free flowing speech. It may be used for newspapers, novels, magazines, encyclopedias, broadcast media, letters, stories, history, philosophy, biography, and many other forms of media.

Prose generally has no formal structure, like meter or rhyme, that is often found in poetry. Therefore it is used to describe literature which is non-poetic, and non-theatrical. There is, however, a blend of the two forms of literature is known as prose poetry.


  1. Concise Oxford Dictionary.


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