As a former journalist and being the son of an English professor and librarian, I’m sensitive to bad grammar in songs.
Recently, a friend of mine reminded me of how I used to make fun of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” in which every verse begins with the words “It ain’t.” That got me thinking about other grammar violations in songs.
There are a lot of songs with bad grammar. Horrible, awful grammar. So many, in fact, that I’ve had to limit my search to only the worst offenders. Here the most grammatically incorrect songs in music, grouped by type of grammar felony.
Songs with Bad Grammar in the Title
Bon Jovi, “She Don’t Know Me” – I didn’t really expect much from this group, to be honest.
Shirley Murdock, “As We Lay” – This would have been correct if the whole verse would have been, “As we lay / the books on the table…” But it’s not. Of course it’s not.
Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay” – You’d expect more from a poet.
Every Avenue, “Between You and I” – This has almost become accepted, sadly.
Young Rant/Shorty B, “Can We Conversate” / Case, “Conversate” – When did “conversate” become a word? I guess instead of admiring someone, we’ll soon “admirate” someone. Or instead of authorizing something, we’ll “authorizate” it.
Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally” – I would try to give Clapton the benefit of the doubt and think that he was laying Sally on a bed or the ground. But then he starts talking to her in the second verse. No, he’s telling her to “lie down.” Guilty!
Improper use of the objective pronoun
Bryan Adams, “Run to You” – “But that’d change if she ever found out about you and I.” Simple rule here, folks. Take out the “you and” and see if the sentence makes sense. Sorry, Bryan. It’s supposed to be “you and me.” I’ll give you a break because you’re Canadian, eh?
Queen, “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” – “I’d like for you and I to go romancing.” D’oh! I thought only bad artists committed grammar violations! No, Freddie, no!
Eric Carmen, “Hungry Eyes” – “I feel the magic between you and I.” “I” doesn’t even rhyme with “eyes,” and it’s almost the same word! Couldn’t you say you use “pies” or “rise”?
Paula Cole, “I Don’t Want to Wait” – “So open up your morning light /And say a little prayer for I.” Good Lord. She followed the above rule and still screwed it up. And again, the verses don’t rhyme. “What about “Have a cup of morning tea / And say a little prayer for me?” Makes about as much sense and is grammatically correct.
Fergie, “Fergalicious” – “T to the A to the S-T-E -Y / Girl, you’re tasty.” Thanks, Fergie and will.i.am, a whole generation of kids will now misspell “tasty,” and for that matter, “William.” But what do you expect from two of the people who gave us the song that inspired this blog?
Improper use of the Comparative and Superlative
Gwen Stefani, “Bubble Pop Electric” – “I’m restless, can’t you see I try my bestest.” No, Gwen, you didn’t try your best.
Lana Del Rey, “Body Electric” – “Jesus is my bestest friend / Diamonds are my bestest friend“. Oh God. Is this a trend?
Backstreet Boys, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” – “As time goes by, you will get to know me a little more better.” Maybe if she spends more time with you, she’ll know you much more betterer. Then she’ll know you the betterest. Gwen Stefani will think that’s the most bestest, I’m sure.
Lie vs. Lay
I learned this one from Mrs. Jenkins’ seventh grade English class. “Lie” is for lying down, to make oneself horizontal on a surface; it does not carry an object. “Lay” requires an object, i.e., you’re laying something on a table. Easy enough, right? Apparently not:
Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – “Lay down with me, tell me no lies.” Maybe she didn’t want to have the word “lie” in two consecutive verses. Still no excuse.
Kool & The Gang, “Cherish” – “I often pray before I lay down by your side.” What do you expect from a song with seagulls in it?
Making Up Words to Complete a Rhyme
Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around” – “When you cheated girl, my heart bleeded girl.” I know, Justin, it seems like the past tense of “bleed” should be “bleeded,” but it’s not. English is weird. Hey, I just had this conversation with my 4-year-old the other day…
Trace Adkins, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” – I hate to mention a country song, because that opens up a whole new realm of grammar mistakes. But “badonkadonk”? Really?
Capone-N-Noreaga feat. Foxy Brown, “Bang Bang” – “I aim you, so you should just let us be/Or find yourself shot up, in the hospitee“. That’s not even a good rhyme.
Kanye West, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – “Don’t ever fix your lips like collagen/To say something when you gon end up apologin.” Kanye’s so bad, he makes the list twice for the same song.
Everclear, “I Will Buy You a New Life” – “I will buy you a new car, perfect, shiny and new.” Yes, but will it be new?
The Police, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” – “Everything she do just turns me on.” Perhaps Sting is keeping in line with the whole reggae/ska feel of the Police’s early music. But using “does” here really wouldn’t hurt.
Timbaland, “The Way I Are” – “Can you handle me the way I are?” Does anyone really talk like this?
Nickelback, “Believe it Or Not” – “Believe it or not everyone have things that they hide.” I would expect no less from Nickelback.
Not bad grammar, atrocious grammar
Tim McGraw, “Angry All The Time” – “Twenty years have came and went since I walked out of your door“. You tried to get the verb right twice, Tim, and failed both times.
Dan Fogelberg, “Stars” – “Far too many stars have fell on me.” For some reason I expected more from Fogelberg. Jeez, he even uses the word “fickle” in this song. How can you do that and get the past participle of “fall” wrong?
Gwen Stefani, “Rich Girl” – “If I was a rich girl…” The rule here is the past subjunctive requires the plural form of the verb to be. That’s a tough rule, and Gwen may not have known that. But this is a remake of the Fiddler on the Roof song, “If I WERE a Rich Man.” So for some reason, she thought the original composers were wrong, and she, the grammar queen, would make the verse grammatically correct. Either that, or she has an evil plot to dumb down America. Or she’s kinda stupid. I mean, who else had two songs on this list?
Kanye West, “Jesus Walks” – “Yo, We at war/We at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all we at war with ourselves/God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down” Oh yeah, Kanye did. Now I know targeting Kanye’s lyrics is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I find this one fascinating. Kanye doesn’t seem to understand the concept of helping verbs. How hard would it be to change “We” to “We’re”? Still the same number of syllables…
Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the U.S.A” – “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” At first glance, this seems okay. But Regina over at AmIRight.com exposes the grammar offense. Her analysis is spot-on:
While the singer’s patriotic sentiments are touching, the relationship of dependent and independent clauses here just doesn’t work. That is because the connector, “where”, is a place-referent connector and therefore needs an antecedent of place in the independent clause. But there is no antecedent of place. That is to say, “I’m proud to be in America, Where at least I know I’m free” would work grammatically, but the actual lines here don’t, since “an American” does not imply a place, but is followed by “where”, which needs to refer back to a place.
That’s so snobby. I love it – especially when describing such a snobby, pompous song as “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Finally, I’d like to clear up a misconception about what continually comes up as bad grammar: Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” Many have interpreted the lyrics at the beginning of the song as “But if this ever-changing world in which we live in / makes you give in and cry,” and note the two “in”s as a grammar faux pas.
But the correct words could also be: “But if this ever-changing world in which we’re livin‘.” So not only would McCartney avoid a grammar felony, but he would also manage to avoid ending his sentence in a preposition. Bravo, Paul! Now if you had just taught John in “Ticket to Ride” that it’s “She doesn’t care” instead of “She don’t care”…