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Write Now: Grammar Helpful For Songwriters

Have you ever been drawn to a song because of its clever lyrics.

You know the song where the music is good, but because of the lyrics, you remember the song.

And then there are those songs that have music where the lyrics may have two meanings. If you have taken an English Language Arts class, then you “know sometimes words have two meanings.” (Lyrics from “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, from the 1971 “Runes,” “ZOFO,” or “Led Zeppelin IV” album.)

So some words do indeed have two meanings, and also some words, depending on usage, can be used as a noun and verb. An example may be “I will bat the ball.” “I will hold the bat.” In the first sentence, bat is a verb. A verb shows action. In the second sentence, bat is a noun. A noun as we all know is a person, place or thing. But what is clever is when a writer can use the same word as a verb and a noun in the same sentence.

So you may ask, am I reading a grammar lesson or an article on song lyrics. The correct answer would be both.

It’s also nice when songwriters use the same words as nouns and verbs in songs. One that comes to mind is “Face The Face” by Pete Townshend, guitarist of The Who. He wrote the song as a solo artist which appeared on his 1985 release “White City: The Novel.”

We’ve got to judge the judge

Got to find the finds

We’ve got to scheme the schemes

Have to line the lines

We must stake the stakes

And show the shown

We must take the takes

And know the known

Try to place the place

Where we can face the face.

We got to face the face

Try to place the place

Where we can face the face

Face the face, got to face the face.

Face the face, got to face the face.

You see how Townshend used same words as nouns and verbs.

The way he makes this happen is to use an infinitive. According to “A Writer’s Reference” by Diana Hacker, “An infinitive consists of to plus a verb: to think, to breathe, to dance. When a modifier appears between its two parts, an infinitive is said to be ‘split’: to carefully balance.” Probably the most famous split infinitive was written by Gene Roddenberry. During the opening credits of “Star Trek,” you hear William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk say

“Space: The final frontier

These are the voyages of the

Starship, Enterprise

Its 5 year mission

To explore strange new worlds

To seek out new life and new

civilizations

To boldly go where no man has gone before”

“Face The Face” is also a song that has a great groove to accompany the clever lyrics by Townshend.

While we are on the subject of grammar and punctuation, do you remember Dan Baird? He was was the founding member of the Georgia Satellites that had a hit in 1986 entitled “Keep Your Hands To Yourself.” He broke away from the band in 1990 and went solo. In 1992, he released the single “I Love You Period,” from the album “Love Songs For the Hearing Impaired.”

Another clever song, but this time using punctuation in the lyrics. The song is about how a teenager is smitten with his teacher. So he writes her a letter with bad punctuation and she writes back correcting his mistakes.

Then one day I decided, that I would write a little letter

She said the spellin’ was a

masterpiece, the punctuation could be better

I understood what she was saying,

I got the gist of her sentiment

She said I don’t mean to be

degrading, but here’s the way

that it shoulda went

I love you period

Do you love me question mark

Please, please exclamation point

I want to hold you in parentheses

So whether you realize or not, grammar and punctuation can be relied upon when creating song lyrics. As long as you know the rules and how they applied, then it is OK to break the rules.

It’s that hard.

It’s that easy.

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