Composers: Should You Use Good Grammar When Writing Your Lyrics?
Use good grammar
Unless you have a good reason to deviate from the typical rules of grammar, you probably shouldn’t. There are some songs I can think of with such bad grammar that it makes the lyrics difficult to hear.
One of those songs is “More Than Words” by Extreme. The song begins with the line “Saying ‘I love you’ is not the words I want to hear from you.” If you had written that sentence in a high school newspaper, your English teacher would still be slapping you to this day … and rightly so. Something like “‘I love you’ is not what I want to hear from you” would have made a lot more sense, from a grammatical point of view, especially since it’s the opening line of the song and it’s setting a standard for what’s to come. .
What comes after that doesn’t get much better. Another line within that verse says “More than words is all you have to do to make it happen.” I’m not even sure how to fix it. But you can see what hard listening is like.
I don’t want to beat up Extreme, because I love the song “More Than Words”. However, better grammar would have been a nice touch here, as there is no reason for bad grammar other than simply not knowing any better.
Using bad grammar
Reading what I just wrote may make you think that it’s never okay to stray from grammar rules when writing a song, but that’s not the case at all.
As a singer, you are essentially a character in your own story. Different characters speak in different ways. For example, in Amy Winehouse’s song, “Rehab,” she sings the line “I don’t have time and if my dad thinks I’m okay.” Obviously using the word “is not” is not considered grammatically appropriate, but in the context of this song, it is fine. It fits the “character” of Amy Winehouse in this song. She is brave and rough around the edges, so of course she would use the word “not” when she doesn’t want to do something. It makes sense.
Something similar happens in the line of the title of the song of Winehouse “Me and Mr. Jones”. Sure, from a grammatical point of view, the line is wrong. However, putting “me” first is a common mistake that Winehouse’s character would probably use. Also, if he had used the correct grammar, the song would have been called “Mr. Jones and Me”, and Counting Crows already had a great success with that line.
That’s not to say that Winehouse doesn’t have her share of grammar problems during other lines in her songs, the same way we saw in the Extreme example. However, in the cases we’re talking about here, it doesn’t bother me, because that’s how his character would speak.
The same idea applies to lines like “I can’t get any satisfaction.” Sure, that line is a grammatical nightmare, but it’s okay because it fits Mick Jagger’s edgy character. We hope your character speaks that way. In the same way, you wouldn’t expect Eminem to use proper grammar in his songs.
For that reason, you shouldn’t be going through all your songs trying to rewrite the lines you have that use made-up words like “go to,” gold “want, “Because people DO say those things in American English. Okay. Most of the time the lyrics are meant to sound conversational, like those” fake “words do. In many cases, it would sound weirder to hear” I go to “what would it be to listen to” I’m going to “because that transformed phrase has become a very common place. Singing is an exaggerated way of speaking, so the ideal would be that you sing your ideas in the same way that you would give your ideas .
Also, it would be wise to know the difference between “you”, “you”, “there”, “they”, “their”, etc., but since we only listen to songs, this one doesn’t even come for you when you write lyrics, unless that someone is looking at your written words. In that case, it would be helpful to know when to use each of these, so that it sounds like you know what you’re talking about.
As you can see, bad grammar can occasionally be fine to use when you’re writing songs (but don’t tell your English teacher that I told you!). If you find yourself twisting the typical rules of grammar just to make one of your rhymes work, you are using bad grammar for the wrong reason. If you do it because that’s how your character would speak to someone, that’s probably fine.