Grammatical lyrics

This isn’t about science, but it deals with two of my favorite topics:  grammar and music.

A song that came up on my playlist is this one from Snow Patrol:  “Chasing Cars.”

The following lines from the chorus have always made me wonder about the grammatical choices the writer made:
If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world

My first reaction was that “If I lay here” sounded jarring (shouldn’t it have been “lie”?), especially when followed by “Would you lie with me?”  If the writer were just being lazy or clueless, I would have expected him to choose one (lie or lay) and just go with it.  The two words would be equally euphonious in the lyric, and if anything the inconsistency isn’t what you would expect in a pop song.

Unless (I wondered) he used “lay” because it is the subjunctive of “lie.” Which would actually be correct, and quite impressive for a pop lyric, although it may be relevant that the writer is from Northern Ireland and studied English Literature and English Language at the University of Dundee.

Naturally, the internet being what it is, someone has chimed in on the use of lay and lie in this song:

Interestingly the writer of the blog declares confidently that Snow Patrol got it wrong and should have written “If I LIE here.”  However the commentators pounce and point out the correctness of the subjunctive (and then have a discussion of whether Wordsworth might have slipped grammatically in his poem “Daffodils;” he didn’t).

Meanwhile, another song that I really love DOES have an egregious grammatical error that almost spoils the song for me.  It is by Willie Nelson:  “You Were Always On My Mind”

Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I should have

Grrrrr!!!  And it was so unnecessary to use “good” instead of “well.”

It is bad enough when Willie sings it, but I find it all the more grating  when sung with exquisite phrasing and pronunciation by Michael Bublé:

Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone
It Ain’t Necessarily So
I Ain’t Got Nobody (No tengua nadie)
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

For some reason these lyrics bother me not at all.

(Updated to correct link to Michael Bublé)



About ethologist

Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University
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