As a former journalist and being the son of an English professor and librarian, I’m sensitive to bad grammar. I’ve learned to bite my tongue whenever someone says “Between he and I” or “less calories,” although I have been known to correct signs in grocery stores and restaurants. It’s an affliction, I’ll admit.
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 best bad grammar examples in music, grouped by type of grammar felony.
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?
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:
- Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally”. I would try to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he was telling someone that he was laying Sally down 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!
- Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay.” And he’s supposed to be a poet.
- 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.
Making up words to complete a rhyme
- Gwen Stefani, “Bubble Pop Electric” – “I’m restless, can’t you see I try my bestest.” No, Gwen, you didn’t give it your best.
- 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?
Special subcategory: Just making up words
- 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.
- 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?
Not bad grammar, atrocious grammar
- 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?
- 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.
- 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” Now I know targeting Kanye West 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!
Coming up next, our grand prize winner. I give you one of the worst offenders of the English language I’ve ever seen. The queen of the bad grammar songs. (Hint: Her name rhymes with fiancé.)