Presenting grammatical mistakes in English songs in the ESL classroom

In today’s world, which is notably influenced by pop culture and music in general, using music does not only serve as a way of entertainment and relaxation, but also as a useful and fun tool for learning a foreign language, especially English. The joyful aspect of it is probably hardly unclear, as music is quite obviously enjoyable for many – perhaps even more so for children, teenagers and young adults – it makes them feel relaxed and motivates them to participate. What about its language potential then?

using songs in the classroom

The truth is that numerous textbooks present various songs and a lot of teachers use them in their lessons occasionally, if not regularly. They offer potential for a big scale of activities linked to both receptive skills (listening and reading) and productive skills (speaking and writing), introducing new vocabulary or practising the words the learners already know, translation, teaching about culture, and last but not least, grammar, on which this article will be focused.

There are many ways to approach teaching grammar through songs. One of them is working with grammar songs created specifically with the aim to teach some grammar features or theory, e.g. “The Tale of Mr Morton”. However, analysing the language in casual songs the learners know from the radio, TV or YouTube is equally effective, if not even more. First of all, they are far more likely to be interesting for them, and second of all, teachers should draw attention of their students to the language in their favourite popular songs.

Why is that so? To a listener who is not on a very advanced level of English, grammar in songs might occur perfectly correct. To be fair, lots of songs contain no grammatical mistakes, but there are still many of those – often big hits – with bad grammar, which can be very tricky and confusing for English learners. Therefore, activities focused on grammatical mistakes definitely deserve to be dealt with in English lessons.
singing in the ESL classroom
The frequency of grammatical mistakes in songs is caused by various reasons – sometimes the lyrics simply need to fit in the rhyme or melody, but they are often incorporated into the lyrics on purpose, to make it sound more natural or cool. One way or another, the lyrics might have a bad influence on non-native speakers who assume the correctness of grammar in songs and subconsciously adopt the incorrect forms and use them in practice. Therefore, teachers should present such songs in the classroom and point out the mistakes. However, just like almost everything, it has some disadvantages. For example, it may make the learners lose trust in grammatical rules they learn at school, or perhaps even worse, their respect for them, when finding out that it can be acceptable to break them. That is why this phenomenon should be supported by additional information on which situations it is actually acceptable in and what difference it makes in communication.


Common mistakes in songs

Moving to the more practical part of this article, here are common grammatical mistakes in English songs, demonstrated on lyrics of specific songs. The mistakes are always underlined.

Improper use of pronouns

It is very common to mix up the subjective pronoun “I” with its objective version “me”, especially in the phrases “you and I/me”. This occurs in many songs and it is a mistake inexperienced learners probably will not notice. Here are two examples.

“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
I want your loving, I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

“You and I” by One Direction
Nothing can come between you and I

Incorrect forms of verbs

In order to achieve a rhyme, lyrics sometimes contain a form of a verb which does not exist in grammatically correct English, often created by adding the regular verb past tense “–ed” suffix after a verb which already is in its past simple form or after a verb which should be in its irregular past tense form instead.

“What Goes Around Comes Around” by Justin Timberlake
When you cheated girl
My heart bleeded girl

Improper use of the second conditional tense

In the second conditional, when expressing hypotheses, wishes or conditions that are contrary to some other fact, the verb “be” needs to take the plural form “were” for every personal pronoun, yet in many songs, the first person singular pronoun “I” is followed by “was” instead of “were”. This is rather a matter of informality than a serious mistake though. It can be quite confusing for English learners because “I” is typically followed by “was”. Another possible mistake in a second conditional clause is using “would” plus infinitive instead of the past simple.

“Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber
If I was your boyfriend
I’d treat you good*
* In this line, there is also a mistake in putting the adjective “good” in the place of the adverb “well”.

“I’m Not the Only One” by Sam Smith
I wish this would be over now

Mistakes in subject-verb agreement

Subject-verb agreement belongs to the basic knowledge of English; nevertheless, it is also one of the most common things that learners make mistakes in, especially regarding the “-s” form in the third person singular, which they often forget about. The missing “-s” is a frequent phenomenon in songs, usually because of the number of syllables needed for a line. Other problems include using the plural form instead of the singular or omitting the subject – even if it is easy to identify from the context who the subject is, it should still be physically present in the sentence.

“He Like That” by Fifth Harmony
He like that love, love, love

“Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber
My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone

“The Way I Are” by Timbaland
Can you handle me the way I are

“Talk About You” by MIKA
Walk* through the city like stupid people do
A million faces, but all I’m seeing is you

*The subject is missing here.

Double negative

Using two negatives is not rare in song lyrics. This piece of grammar is usually quite difficult for English learners to grasp, so it should be paid enough attention to.

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
And ain’t nobody leaving soon, so keep dancing (…)
I don’t need no reason, don’t need control

“A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” by Fergie
A little party never killed nobody

It is up to the teacher how they approach the songs; nevertheless, the main rule is that the learners should always be familiar with the correct version of the grammar and they should know enough vocabulary of the lyrics to be able to understand the context the mistakes are in. Then the teacher can go through the mistakes with the class and they can correct them together, or the learners can look for them first, which will make them more concentrated and alert next time they hear an English song. The learners might even be challenged to find a song with a mistake, bring it to the next lesson, point the mistake out, explain why they think the grammar is incorrect, and perhaps let their classmates correct it.

A discussion about the presence of mistakes in songs should always be part of the lesson, either before or after dealing with the songs. Older and more advanced learners will probably be able to state their own valid opinions on why mistakes occur in songs, whereas younger and less experienced learners will need guidance from the teacher. The learners should also be provided with a summary of common mistakes, which can be done in one lesson, but it can be a matter of more lessons as well. It is encouraged to do other activities with the songs such as completing the lyrics, singing, translation, and pretty much anything else the teacher finds suitable for their class.


Model lesson

Below, I will share the stages of a model lesson on songs with grammatical mistakes as inspiration. The main song used in the lesson is “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. The mistakes are underlined.

1. Speaking about music and English songs

  • Ask the learners about their relationship to music and their attitude to lyrics of English songs. They can talk in pairs or groups first; then they are expected to share with the whole class.
  • Examples of questions:

How often do you listen to music?
Do you listen to songs with English lyrics?
What are your favourite English songs?
Do you listen to the lyrics, or do you just listen to the melody?
Do you ever learn lyrics of songs by heart?

2. Listening to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and filling in the missing lyrics

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

I got this feeling inside my _______
It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on
All through my city, all through my _______
We’re flying up, no ________, when we in our zone

I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my ______
I feel that ____ ______ in my body when it drops
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so ____________
Room on lock, the way we rock it, so don’t stop
And under the lights when everything goes
Nowhere ___ ______ when I’m getting you close
When we move, well, you already know
So just imagine, just imagine, just imagine

Nothing I can see ____ _____ when you dance, dance, dance
Feeling good, good, _________ up on you
So just dance, dance, dance, come on
All those things I shouldn’t do
But you dance, dance, dance
And ain’t nobody leaving _______, so keep dancing
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance, come on

Ooh, it’s something magical
It’s in the air, it’s in my blood, it’s ________ ____
I don’t need no _________, don’t need control
I fly so high, no ceiling, when I’m in my _______



  • The learners are given the lyrics, the song is played and they are supposed to fill in the missing words on their own. Then it is checked.
  • The missing words are: bones, home, ceiling, feet, hot blood, phenomenally, to hide, but you, creeping, soon, rushing on, reason, zone.
  • For the learners who are on a lower level, words that are repeated more often or are easier to catch can be omitted.

3. Finding grammatical mistakes

The learners are told to look for grammatical mistakes in the lyrics. They are given enough time to find them without the teacher’s help. They do it individually or in pairs. If they do not find the mistakes, the teacher can tell them the line in which the mistake is, but the learners should try to identify the problem.

4. Correcting the mistakes

The learners suggest correct transformations of the incorrect structures. If they do not know how to transform them, translation into their mother tongue can help, or the teacher can give them a hint about what needs to be changed. It is helpful when the teacher writes both versions on the blackboard to display the difference between them. The teacher comments on the reason why each mistake had to be corrected, or the students can give the explanation, provided that they are capable of it.

5. Singing the song

If the learners are interested, the song can be played again and sung. For fun, they can try to sing the new correct versions of the lyrics, which probably will not fit in, or they can even brainstorm how to transform the whole line to make it go with the melody.

6. Finding and correcting mistakes in other songs

“Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber

And I didn’t wanna write a song ‚cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care
I don’t but you still hit my phone up
And baby I be movin‘ on
And I think you should be somethin‘
I don’t wanna hold back
Maybe you should know that
My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone

“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga

I want your love and
I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

“Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani

If I was a rich girl (na, na)
See, I’d have all the money in the world
If I was a wealthy girl
No man could test me, impress me
My cash flow would never ever end
Cause I’d have all the money in the world
If I was a wealthy girl

The learners are given excerpts of lyrics which contain mistakes and the procedure is the same as in stages 3 and 4.

7. Discussion

  • The learners are asked questions related to grammatical mistakes in songs and the whole class discusses this topic. The teacher aims for involving everybody.
  • The purpose is to make the learners realise the importance of paying attention to grammar in songs and the fact that there are often mistakes in lyrics so that they do not rely on grammar in songs being correct. Another goal is to get feedback on the lesson.
  • Examples of questions:

Do you ever look for mistakes in lyrics or is this the first time you have focused on them?
When trying to say something or write something, do you ever think of a song and say or write it as it is in the song?
Do you think it’s dangerous to rely on grammar in songs?
Do you think these exercises (that we did together) are going to help you in any way?
Do you think that from now on you are going to notice or try to notice mistakes in songs?

I held a lesson on grammatical mistakes in songs in multiple groups of grammar school students when doing a research for my bachelor’s thesis focused on the topic of grammatical mistakes in songs and the students really enjoyed it and found it meaningful, so I definitely recommend it to all English teachers. It is a pleasant and useful way of teaching and revising grammar.


Author: Bc. Žaneta Voldánová, Masaryk University

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