The latest on travel, languages and culture by EF Education First

When bad grammar happens to good songs (Episode 1)

People always say that singing along to songs can help you learn English – but what if the people who wrote the lyrics weren’t quite sure about all of the language rules and quirks themselves? Your music library can be a battlefield full of word crimes and grammar felonies, which is actually good news: The worst examples make for the best exercises, and we can all improve our English thanks to bad lyrics:

1. Lady Gaga: “Bad Romance

“You and me could write a bad romance.”

If Lady Gaga talks about her relationship with grammar, it really does seem to be a bad romance: This whole thing with me, and I messes even with people whose native language is English. One trick to get it right is to just leave out “the other person,” and see if the sentence makes sense: “Me could write a bad romance.” Nope, that sounds like something Cookie Monster would say. I could rewrite the lyrics, though, and Lady Gaga could sing “You and I could write a bad romance.”

2. Gwen Stefani ft. Eve: “Rich Girl

“If I was rich girl (na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na nah)…”

Gwen Stefani probably thought that if she added all of that na-na-na-na-na-stuff, people wouldn’t notice her little mishap: “I was” makes a lot of sense until the two words bring that pesky little if along for the ride. If means that whatever we are saying is not an actual fact but wishful thinking (even though Gwen Stefani is a rich girl). Subjunctive is the fancy way to describe all of this, and it calls for the verb to be in the subjunctive mood. Long story short, Miss Stefani should sing “If I were a rich girl (na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na nah)…”

3. Justin Bieber: “Boyfriend

“If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go.”

Let’s reiterate the whole subjunctive mood with a chorus that is as catchy as it is wrong:I appreciate the optimism, but Justin Bieber is probably never going to be my boyfriend. However, if he were, I’d tell him to get the grammar right and change the verb after if to the subjunctive mood to accommodate the wishful thinking. “If I were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go.” (If I were your girlfriend, I’d appreciate that very much.)

4. One Direction: “You & I

“No, nothing can come between you & I, oohh, you & I.”

If even One Direction gets the whole I and me thing wrong, how is anyone supposed to get it right? There’s another simple trick to figure out when to use I or me: Whenever you use a preposition, like between, you always use whom (not who), aka me (not I). So, since nothing can come between us (and not we), One Direction should sing “No, nothing can come between you & me, oohh, you & me.”

5. Kanye West: “Jesus Walks

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.”

Rap lyrics are a treasure trove of interesting grammar, so let’s start with an easy one: Kanye West is a man of big ideas – he doesn’t have time to worry about verbs. Kanye, I’mma let you finish, but to be is one of the best verbs of all time! There’s no reason to be at war with it, and it will make you even greater than you already think you are. “We ARE at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all, we ARE at war with ourselves. God show me the way because the Devil IS trying to break me down.”

6. Justin Timberlake: “What goes around… comes around

“When you cheated girl. My heart bleeded girl.”

And another Justin is guilty of word crimes that make my soul bleed. I know that it’s important for lyrics to rhyme, but why sacrifice the grammar? I’m pretty sure karma also works with grammar mistakes. The past tense of bleed is bled. “When you cheated, girl. My heart bled, girl.” Yes, it lost its dramatic effect, but now, it actually sounds correct.

7. Backstreet Boys: “All I have to give

Does his gifts come from the heart? I don’t know.”
“Does his friends get all your time? Baby, please.”

There are no stupid questions, but there are questions that can make you sound stupid. All the verbs in a sentence have to agree with the subject – if the subject is plural, the verb will be plural. Here, we have more than one gift and more than one friend – so the correct question should be “Do the gifts come from the heart?” and “Do his friends get all your time?” (The Backstreet Boys probably have a lot of give, but grammar advice is definitely not it.)

Share this article

Latest articles from Language learning