1. Verbs: Singular verbs in the Early Modern period were more highly inflected than today. Learn to recognize and to pronounce these forms.

Present Tense

Present Tense
I do
thou dost [sounds exactly like dust]
he/she/it doth [has the same vowel as in does, and it means the same thing; does not rhyme with moth]
                we do
                you do
                they do
I say
thou sayst [one syllable, rhymes with zest and pest]
he/she/it saith [one syllable, rhymes with death, with the same vowel as in says, which is what it means]
                we say
                you say
                they say
Past Tense
Past Tense
                I said / did
                thou saidst / didst
                he/she/it said / did
                we said / did
                you said / did
                they said / did

In some cases the endings of second- and third-person singular verbs were pronounced as separate syllables (thou saidest), but this seems to have been old-fashioned and is employed mainly for metrical convenience.

2. Variety: This variation brings us to the second main point about Early Modern grammar. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poets enjoyed a rich diversity of grammatical norms to choose from. Even today we are not surprised to hear both "dreamed" and "dreamt," "di-a-mond" and "di-mond," but in Shakespeare's day the language was still more rapidly and obviously evolving than today. Old plurals (shoon for shoes and eyen for eyes) occasionally make a guest appearance for the sake of rhyme:

O these wakeful wounds of thine!
Are they mouths, or are they eyes?
Be they mouths or be they eyen
Each bleeding part some one supplies. —Crashaw "On the Wounds of Our Crucified Lord"
         [I.e., each wound resembles both mouth and eye in some way or other.]

A single writer might employ multiple "standard" but conflicting dialects—not merely for different characters but within a single voice, without violating decorum. Sometimes the effects were as bizarre as when Keanu Reeves shifts within a single sentence from street hustler slang into formal platform English. In actual practice, most individuals spoke either in a conservative, old-fashioned way or in a more modern dialect, but it was rare for a poet to limit himself, as Milton did, to consistency in the most progressive forms of speech. Poetic license permitted great flexibility. For instance, the new -s (or -es) ending for verbs often rubs shoulders with the old-fashioned -eth ending:

And he that takes him maketh him to sweare
That he shall neare beare armes gainst Latian ground.[1]

Likewise, the past tense ending could be syllabic or not as needed, for pronunciation varied so much in the general population that inconsistency within a single sentence would be perceived as only mildly unusual if at all:

Glad was Melyssa that procurde this strife,
But soone I turnd and marred all her sport. . . . —Harington 43.45

Sir John Harinton needed an extra syllable and felt no hesitation in writing maketh rather than makes even though takes (one syllable) is only a word away. Similarly, even though he uses the progressive forms procurde (not procured, three syllables) and turnd (not turned, two syllables), he uses marred (two syllables) to make the meter come out right. Consistency was no hobgoblin to the Elizabethan mind! Modern readers, however, sometimes impose consistency upon the verse they read—with disastrous consequences to the meter. Be particularly aware of the word puissance, one of Spenser's favorites. In one place it will be two syllables long (pwi-ssance), in another three (pu-wi-ssance).

Consider also the casual inconsistency of tense, using offends rather than offended just to save a syllable and make the line scan correctly:

I say although the fire were wondrous hot,
Yet in their passage they no heat did feele
So that it burnd them nor offends them not. —Harington 34.70

3. Latinate Syntax: Perhaps the most disturbing deviation of Early Modern verse from Modern practice is the great freedom with which poets distorted word order. This is a feature of most verse; we speak of "poetic license" in such a passage as these:

Though he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome,
To my heart [modifies "key"] he carries the key.  (from the musical Oh Kay)

Love me tender,
Love me strong,
All my dreams [direct object] fulfill [verb].

We easily enough comprehend that "He carries the key to my heart" and "Fulfill all my dreams" are what is meant. However, the distortions of normal word order in which Early Modern poets indulged are far more extreme, sometimes reminding one of the speech of the Jedi master Yoda (e.g., "comfort her it would" = "it would comfort her").

But Bradamant now farre in other rate
Her selfe in readines for fight doth set,
And if the knight do his swords edge rebate,
As fast the damsell her swords edge doth whet.
She wisheth with a heart most full of hate
Her sword a passage to the quick would get.
Yea, comfort her it would and do her good
If she with ev'rie blow could draw the blood.
—Harington 45.67

Poets of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages seldom attempted to imitate speech (except in drama).  On the contrary, they cultivated a language of artifice, so you cannot count on using the subject-verb-object pattern to help you interpret sentences. Objects often come first, so be especially aware of other sorts of clues, particularly pronoun case, as indicators of grammatical function. In addition to "He killed the monster," expect to find "He the monster killed," "The monster killed he," and "The monster he killed" (but not "Killed the monster he" or "Killed he the monster," which would be questions since they place verb before subject). When nouns rather than pronouns appear in such sentences, you must use context and common sense to interpret the meaning, for the subjective and objective forms of nouns are identical.

[1] Sir John Harington's Elizabethan translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso 33.16. Unless otherwise specified, the following examples come from this poem.

Exercise #1   Exercise #2