Poetic License

note

I write song lyrics (and poems) now and then, so I understand the need to deviate from the rules of grammar sometimes in order to create an effect. I’m not bothered by phrasing such as “He don’t love you like I love you” (from “He Will Break Your Heart,” written by Jerry Butler, Calvin Carter, and Curtis Mayfield), “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” (Bill Withers) or “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” (Bobby Scott and Bob Russell). Languages accommodate formal and informal styles of communication, and few of us—myself included—use formalities when writing to friends or speaking to family members.

The arts reflect the various habits, customs, preferences, tastes, and peculiarities of different people, regions, subcultures, and generations. A novelist or screenwriter strives to create memorable characters. If characters all thought, spoke, and behaved alike, they would be hard to tell apart (and probably not very interesting). Slang and blended words (such as frenemy) have their place, but if the only examples of written correspondence you’ve ever seen are tweets and text messages, and you’ve spent your time watching television sitcoms and listening to popular music, your vocabulary is likely to be quite limited. You might not even know how to speak and write proper English. (If that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog, so let’s not dwell on hypotheticals. I’ll have more to say about them in my next post!)

I’ll venture to speculate that most of my readers understand that “Baby I’m-a Want You” (written by David Gates of Bread) is not good grammar. In less obvious instances, however, the lyrics of hit songs can stick in our minds so well that we might start to question what the rules are.

You and I or You and Me?

Consider “Touch Me” by the Doors (written by Robby Krieger):

“I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.”

Would you ask a friend, “Would you do something for I?” I didn’t think so.

For is most commonly used as a preposition, so the objective case is needed:

“for you and me”

Let’s try another.

“You and I,” written by Frank J. Myers, was a hit for Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle in the 1980s.

“We’ll be all right, just you and I.”

Here, you and I explains who is meant by we, and we is the subject of the sentence (hence, subjective case.) We’ll be all right, yes we will.

Whereas,

“It’s just us now.” X

is incorrect (though, informally, most of us talk that way).

What about Chicago’s song from the 1970s, “Just You and Me,” written by James Pankow?

“Just you and me, simple and free.”

In other words: “It’s just you and me, hon”—which belongs in the “It’s just us” category.

It is I.
It’s me. X

Correct:

“You and I know the truth.” (We know the truth.)
“Remember the time you and I went to the beach?” (Remember when we went to the beach?)
“I’ll get one for you and one for me.” (I’ll rent a couple of movies for us to watch tonight.)
“They brought a present for Keith and me.” (They gave us a wedding gift.)

Are we clear now?

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1 thought on “Poetic License

  1. Pingback: If I were . . . | Write It Right!

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