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Unit 1: Shakespeare Speaks
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Session 20

The Queen is taking King James' wine away, but is she being cruel... or kind? Learn how to use the phrase cruel to be kind and expand your vocabulary by learning six synonyms of cruel - and the nouns that go with them.

Session 20 score

0 / 15

  • 0 / 4
    Activity 1
  • 0 / 5
    Activity 2
  • 0 / 6
    Activity 3

Activity 2

I must be cruel, only to be kind - meaning and use

Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby…
We asked you: Which Shakespeare play is the movie 10 Things I Hate About You based on? The answer is The Taming of the Shrew. Did you get it right?

Let's explore the use of the phrase cruel to be kind, so you can sing this song - and know what you are singing about!

To do

Listen to this extract of the animation to help you remember what the narrator said, and then do the quiz to check you understood the meaning and form of the phrase cruel to be kind.

Listen to the audio and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

Narrator
In modern English, Shakespeare's phrase is usually shortened to I must be cruel to be kind. Or just cruel to be kind. People say it when they do something unkind that will actually benefit someone. It's the title of a song in the American movie 10 Things I Hate About You.

Clip 1
Cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby…

Clip 2
I know I upset her when I told her to get a haircut, but it was such a mess: I had to be cruel to be kind.

Now have a go at this quiz. Look at the transcript if you need extra help.

To be cruel or not to be cruel...

5 Questions

Answer these questions about the meaning and the form of I must be cruel to be kind

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

How did you do?
3-5 correct - congratulations, we'll be kind and tell you more about the phrase in the language note below.
0-2 correct - oh dear, we're going to have to be cruel to be kind and ask you to look at the transcript and try again. (It's for your own good!)

Language note

Nowadays must is often replaced by have to or have got to:

  • You have to be cruel to be kind
  • You've got to be cruel to be kind

In spoken, informal English, have got to is often pronounced as gotta.

  • You gotta be cruel to be kind

When we use I must be cruel to be kind to talk about a past situation, we use the past form of have to:

  • I had to be cruel to be kind 

Next

How many different adjectives can you think of with a similar meaning to cruel? 

We're always kind to keen language learners, so join us on the next page where we'll give you six synonyms of cruel - and the nouns that collocate with them. 

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU

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    I must be cruel, only to be kind

    Meaning
    In modern English, Shakespeare's phrase is usually shortened to I must be cruel to be kind. Or just cruel to be kind. People say it when they do something unkind that will actually benefit someone.

    Example sentence
    I know I upset her when I told her to get a haircut, but it was such a mess: I had to be cruel to be kind.

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    Extra vocabulary

    listen (here)
    to pay attention to what someone tells you and do what they suggest

    collocation
    the natural way words go together

    put down (an animal)
    kill in a humane way

    a vicious circle
    a repeating situation in which one problem causes another problem that makes the first problem worse

    tough love
    a strict way of dealing with someone who has a problem

    a cold-blooded killer
    a killer who shows no sympathy

    a nasty look
    looking at someone in a unkind way

    a harsh punishment 
    make someone suffer in a cruel way for something bad that they have done

    a mean streak 
    unkind behaviour which is part of someone's personality

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    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University

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