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Prose is the form of written language (including written speech or dialogue) that follows the natural flow of speech, a language's ordinary grammatical structures, or typical writing conventions and formatting. Thus, prose includes academic writing and differs most notably from poetry, where the format consists of verse: writing formatted in lines, which traditionally follow rhythmic metre or a rhyme scheme. The word "prose" first appeared in English in the 14th century. It is derived from the Old French prose, which in turn originates in the Latin expression prosa oratio (literally, straightforward or direct speech).[1]

Works of philosophy, history, economics, etc., journalism, and most fiction (an exception is the verse novel), are examples of works written in prose. Developments in twentieth century literature, including free verse, concrete poetry, and prose poetry, have led to the idea of poetry and prose as two ends on a spectrum rather than firmly distinct from each other. The British poet T. S. Eliot noted, whereas "the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure."[2]


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Further information: Chinese prose, Ancient Greek literature, Roman literature, Elizabethan literature § Prose, Augustan prose, Restoration literature § Prose genres, and Prose of the Ottoman Empire

Latin was a major influence on the development of prose in many European countries. Especially important was the great Roman orator Cicero (106–43 BC).[3] It was the lingua franca among literate Europeans until quite recent times, and the great works of Descartes (1596–1650), Francis Bacon (1561–1626), and Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) were published in Latin. Among the last important books written primarily in Latin prose were the works of Swedenborg (d. 1772), Linnaeus (d. 1778), Euler (d. 1783), Gauss (d. 1855), and Isaac Newton (d. 1727).

Latin's role was replaced by French from the 17th.- to the mid-20th century, i.e. until the uptake of English:

For about three hundred years French prose was the form in which the European intelligence shaped and communicated its thoughts about history, diplomacy, definition, criticism, human relationships — everything except metaphysics. It is arguable that the non-existence of a clear, concrete German prose has been one of the chief disasters to European civilisation.[4]


Prose usually lacks the more formal metrical structure of the verses found in traditional poetry. It comprises full grammatical sentences (other than in stream of consciousness narrative), and paragraphs, whereas poetry often involves a metrical or rhyming scheme. Some works of prose make use of rhythm and verbal music. Verse is normally more systematic or formulaic, while prose is closer to both ordinary, and conversational speech.

In Molière's play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme the character Monsieur Jourdain asked for something to be written in neither verse nor prose, to which a philosophy master replies: "there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse", for the simple reason that "everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose".[5]

American novelist Truman Capote, in an interview, commented as follows on prose style:

I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence— especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don't mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that's all.[6]


See also: Prose types

Many types of prose exist, which include those used in works of nonfiction, prose poem,[7] alliterative prose and prose fiction.


Prose is divided into two main divisions:


  1. ^ "prose (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  2. ^ Eliot, T. S. Poetry & Prose: The Chapbook, Poetry Bookshop London, 1921.
  3. ^ "Literature", Encyclopaedia Britannica. online
  4. ^ Clark, Kenneth (1969). Civilisation: A Personal View. London: BBC and John Murray. p. 220. OCLC 879537495 – via repetition in the TV series of the same name.
  5. ^ "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme". English translation accessible via Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  6. ^ Hill, Pati. "Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17". The Paris Review. Spring-Summer 1957 (16). Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  7. ^ Lehman, David (2008). Great American Prose Poems. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1439105115.
  8. ^ "Prose poem". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
  9. ^ Braund, Susanna. "Prosimetrum". In Cancil, Hubert, and Helmuth Schneider, eds. Brill's New Pauly. Brill Online, 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  10. ^ a b Brogan, T.V.F. "Prosimetrum". In Green et al., pp. 1115–1116.
  11. ^ "A Word a Day – purple prose". Wordsmith.org. Retrieved 26 December 2014.

Further reading