When Grammar DOESN’T Matter: Adele’s ‘Hello’

Adele CD CoverAlthough we likely don’t give it much thought when we’re listening to a song, we’d all have to admit that lyricists often take liberties with grammar.

Because of the record-breaking sales of Adele’s recent album 25 — according to billboard, over 4 million in the U.S. since its Nov. 20 release I thought it might be fun to zero in on the lyrics from a ruthless editor’s perspective.

Here’s what I found in “Hello,” the standout track that’s getting the most play:

Hello, it’s me, I was wondering
If after all these years you’d like to meet to go over everything
They say that time’s supposed to heal, yeah
But I ain’t done much healing

Ain’t isn’t acceptable in all circles or in all situations, but when you consider the cadence, what else could she have used?

“But I haven’t done much healing”?
“But I’ve not done much healing”?

The second option would work with the flow and timing, but it just doesn’t have the raw emotional feel in the context of the entire tale she’s telling.

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Don’t matter? We know doesn’t would be better grammar.

But, again, consider the emotional, almost desperate pleading tone of the message. Single-syllable don’t fits.

Mick Jagger famously took poetic license in one of The Rolling Stones’ most well-known songs — and lines — in music:

“I can’t get no satisfaction.”

It’s punchy, direct, and it works for the context of the song, its creator and its delivery.

Videos further illustrate the point
If you haven’t seen Adele perform “Hello,” check it out (give the sound several seconds to come up).

And if you didn’t catch the Saturday Night Live spoof of “Hello” with Thanksgiving dinner, you’re missing one of the zany SNL team’s truly laugh-out-loud performances.

But be sure to watch the “Hello” video before you watch the spoof.

For further proof of the impact of “Hello,” consider this powerful instrumental rendition by the Southern University Marching Band on Nov. 27, just days after the CD was released. The school’s gyrating “Dancing Dolls” add emotional interpretation … or something.

When does grammar not matter?
When someone strays from what is considered standard usage for a reason other than simply not knowing any better.

Or when someone like Adele takes poetic license. She has more than earned that right.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

4 thoughts on “When Grammar DOESN’T Matter: Adele’s ‘Hello’

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      I agree: It’s great to have such a positive female role model achieving these heights in the music world. Adele proves it’s all about voice and performance.

  1. Avatarmorst

    There’s a wonderful song called Deal, written by lyricist Robert Hunter with music by Jerry Garcia, popularized by Jerry’s band Grateful Dead that has a line that always bugs me.

    “You and me gotta spend some time wondering what to choose”

    Me gotta spend some time?

    I gotta spend some time?

    That song could be “you and I gotta spend some time…” and it would sing just fine.

    But NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!????!?!?!?!?!

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Hard to believe Hunter didn’t know it should be “you and I,” and yet so many people use “you and I” when it should be “you and me” that it hardly grabs my attention anymore. Did Hunter simply take poetic license?

      You obviously don’t need this lesson, morst, but what’s the quickest way to tell? Delete the partner word:
      “My boss invited Jim and I to lunch.” Wrong!
      You wouldn’t say, “My boss invited I to lunch.”
      So “My boss invited Jim and me to lunch” is correct.

      Thanks for your comment and opening the door to another grammar reminder. —Kathy

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