Beatles and Bad Grammar

I recently saw Across the Universe. As most people know, the movie updates a bunch of Beatles songs, and uses them to tell a story.

It’s pretty good, and part of the fun is seeing how the movie-makers adapt the lyrics to their purpose.

The one I bring you today is especially interesting to me, because they exploit poor grammar to make the song work in a way that it wasn’t originally intended to.

The song: If I Fell.

The words:

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her

It’s all about the last line.

The Beatles wanted to say that they hope this new woman will love them more than the last woman did. More than SHE did. SHE is the correct pronoun.

But most people don’t say, “I want you to love me more than she.” They’ll either say, “her,” or if they’re like me and want to get it right, “she did.” The Beatles weren’t about to screw up the rhythm of the song by saying “she did,” so they left it at “her.” Or they didn’t know any better. Either way, it is what it is.

The point is, as I said, the song was intended to be a man singing to a woman about loving him more than the last woman did.

But the movie has a woman singing to a man. What to do? Change the lyrics?

Luckily, due to the grammatical error (or conscious decision), the movie didn’t have to change a thing.

We see the woman singing, while watching a man. She’s clearly singing about him. Then comes the line. I’ll give it to you again, because I’m feeling generous:

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her

At that point, we see the guy with another woman. And it’s obvious that our singer wants him to love her (the singer) more than he loves this other woman (HER). It works perfectly; it’s grammatically, artistically, musically, and visually unmistakable. Plus, I got to use another semicolon.

2 Responses to “Beatles and Bad Grammar”

  1. JB
    April 7, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    You’re not the first to think about this: http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/If-I-Fell-lyrics-The-Beatles/FEAE0CEA30750F7E48256BC20012C4E5

    My favorite song lyrics have little quirks like this, and Lennon (who mostly wrote “If I Fell” especially loved this sort of thing. For example, in “Getting Better” when McCartney wrote “It’s getting better all the time” Lennon threw in “It couldn’t get much worse”: http://home.att.net/~chuckayoub/Sgt_Peppers_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band_Lyrics.html

    As McCartney says: “Typical John”

    Having written lots of lyrics, I for one believe the ambiguity to be intentional. In my imagination, I see Lennon writing these lyrics, and noticing (or having pointed out to him) the ambiguity of that “her”, and immediately deciding he meant it both ways all along. That’s what I would have done.

  2. admin - Rob
    April 7, 2008 at 4:26 pm #

    What about “don’t hurt my pride like her”?

    My guess (not any better than yours, of course) would be that it’s not supposed to be ambiguous, but it still may be intentional. “We know the grammar’s not perfect, but so what?”

    A lot of people talk like that all the time, and they do it naturally, without trying to be ambiguous. And if you point out that it’s ambiguous, they’ll peg you as a pedant. “Come on, man, you know what I meant.”

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