September 29

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Good Music and Songs for Learning English

By Gordon Gaffney

September 29, 2021


Good Music and Songs for Learning English

I think that good music and songs for learning English can be a great and fun way to help fix some vocabulary and grammar in your mind. 

If you make the mental connection between grammar rules and/or vocabulary you learned with some of your favourite music or famous songs then this makes you remember them.

However, as in all languages, songs in English often use a lot of slang and poor grammar and I will show you some examples of that and explain why, but first some good examples.

We have 2 famous songs to show us how the Present Perfect can be used naturally in conversation and I'm sure there are probably many more!

1. "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" by Creedance Clearwater Revival.

2. "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" by Bryan Adams.

They both use the Present Perfect. Why do you think that is?

It is because they are talking about LIFE EXPERIENCE.

Have you ever seen the rain? means did you see the rain in your life? For life experience in English we MUST use present perfect, unlike in Portuguese where we use past simple, did you see the rain? or did you ever see the rain?

It is the same with Bryan Adams. He is asking you, in your life, did you love a woman? or did you ever love a woman? so again we MUST use Present Perfect for life experience.

The Present Perfect is the most challenging but also the most important verb tense and grammar point to master in English.

I do a full 60-minute class only on the Present Perfect with all my students and you can teach yourself this full 60 minute class by reading my book available here for €6.99 or if you prefer I have 42 minutes of video in my video course here for €14.99.

3. Everybody Hurts - REM

When we think of everybody [or everyone], we think of many people therefore we think it is plural and that everybody is 'they', but for grammar purposes everybody/everyone is the same as he/she/it. I believe it is the same in Portuguese.

REM were the biggest band in the world at times during the 1990s/2000s and this is one of their most famous songs.

So Everybody Hurt is a mistake, we say Everybody Hurts.

Any child of the 1980s or fans of 1980s music out there probably know Tears for Fears and their song, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

Again, everybody want to rule the world is an error. Everybody is 'he/she/it' for grammar purposes so we must use an 's' in the present simple.

I like - I like it

The Rolling Stones can help us learn another very important point in English that is different to Portuguese.

I know it's only rock and roll but I like it,
like it, yes I do.


I like it.


In English you need to like SOMETHING, you can't say I like the way that you can in Portuguese.

I like. = I like it.

So we need to say I like it, or I like that, or I like Pizza or whatever it is.

And I'm sure you will agree that if the song was:

I know it's only rock and roll but I like ..., like.., yes I do

This would sound very, very strange!

4. Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2

How much time = How long?

Now we go to the world-famous band U2, who are Irish like me. Maybe you might know the song Sunday, Bloody Sunday, here we have Bono singing:

"How long, how long must we sing this song?"

Notice he does not say something like "For how much time must we sing this song".

For How Much Time or How Much Time is a direct translation of Portuguese and not what a native says in English. In general with time and specifically with a quantity or duration of time we use long and short in English.

Bad Grammar in Songs

From all my 3,500 classes with Brazilian students since 2013 some other interesting points appear related to music and lyrics. Here is an example of bad grammar in music.

ain't

I am often asked what ain't means and whether it is ok to use it in English.

ain't is slang or shorthand for a negative. 

It is used most often for the negative in the present or in the future. So it can replace don't/doesn't, won't but also am not/is not, were not etc, so one word can replace all these words!

It is used a lot in particular by African Americans in the USA. In fact there is almost a separate dialect of how African Americans speak compared to other American people, you can see this in rap music, hip hop, and in books and movies.

I'm talking in general here but the cultures, lives and histories of African Americans, white people, Latinas, Asians etc are naturally very different so therefore the ways they speak are very different.

We can also see it in the lyrics of rap songs that use a lot of slang and totally different vocabulary to 'correct English'.

Interestingly ain't is also used a lot by people in the UK, and especially around the London area.

However, it is very bad grammar and you should not use it, especially in an exam as it simply is not a proper word, it does not exist in the dictionary. However you will hear it a lot on television or in songs as here: 

5. Ain’t That a ShameFats Domino 

So here it should be "isn't that a shame?"

Another American singer Pat Boone covered the song in 1955. Pat Boone was a teacher and did not like the use of bad grammar in the lyrics, ain't is not a proper word, so he wanted to sing a cover of it called "isn't that a shame?", then he realised that it simply did not work. The extra syllable in isn't compared to ain't spoiled the rhythm of the song so against his own wishes he sang it as aint that a shame.

This was shown very well in a great BBC 4 documentary called Rock and Roll America.

Another example of ain't is:

6. Money for NothingDire Straits

With its ground-breaking computer generated music video from 1985.

Now, with lyrics.

"Now that ain't working, that's the way you do it"

Again it means "that isn't working", but isn't is too difficult to say quickly so it is shortened to the one syllable "ain't".

This is bad English grammar in music, you can read about TV series that use a lot of slang and bad grammar here. You can read here about 10 songs with past continuous.

Coming soon we will have some great tips and strategies for English music activities, and also a post on Dream Speaking English (Why does this happen?).

If you have any examples of bad grammar in songs or questions about what lyrics mean then leave a comment below.

Gordon Gaffney

About the author

Gordon is The Irish English Teacher, creator of this blog and many products to help all students learning English as a second language, but with a focus on Portuguese speakers.

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