Song Lyric Grammar Errors . . . or Not?

Apparently the Princeton Review (which helps US students prepare for college admission tests) had an example of “Grammar in Real Life” using some song lyrics for students to find the errors. One of those examples was Taylor Swift’s song Fifteen. The Princeton Review said the lyric read “Somebody tells you they love you, you got to believe ’em.” A Swift fan was upset and posted a copy of the test page online. Taylor herself replied that they got the lyric wrong “Not the right lyrics at all pssshhhh. You had one job, test people. One job.” and that the correct lyric was “Somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.” Princeton Review owned up to that error, but posted that the revised line still had a grammar error because “somebody” can’t later be referred to as “them.” “If we look at the whole sentence, it starts off with ‘somebody,’ and ‘somebody,’ as you know, is a singular pronoun and if it’s singular, the rest of the sentence has to be singular.” They apparently forgot, however, that “them” is a gender-neutral, singular pronoun that has been used that way since the 16th Century. So that sentence is actually grammatically correct. Go Taylor!

The same Princeton Review test referenced a Lady Gaga song saying the lyric “You and me could write a bad romance” is grammatically incorrect. OK, you’re correct there. In formal writing, it should be “you and I” EXCEPT song lyrics are not formal writing and “you and me” is what people say all the time, so it is acceptable in what we will call “musical speech.” Go Gaga!

It is admirable for Princeton Review to attempt to test grammar using real life examples, but they need to make sure their answer is correct first.

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