SAT Grammar: Lessons by Song

SAT grammar is a great section to study because although there are a ton of grammar rules out there, not all of them are tested. It can be really helpful to know what the SAT tests and what it doesn’t, so let’s take a look at a few songs that break SAT grammar rules and talk about which rules we need to know!

Pronouns are a big part of SAT grammar. Every SAT has multiple pronoun questions, so it’s extremely important that we know which rules we need to follow.

Rule 1: for SAT grammar, every pronoun must have an antecedent.

Whip it! – Devo

The error here is that the pronoun “it” does not have an antecedent! What is “it”? Since there is no explicit antecedent, this is a classic SAT grammar error!

BONUS ERROR: The lyric of the chorus is “Whip it good,” but it really should be “Whip it well.Good is an adjective, meaning it should generally describe a noun (e.g. this is a good song) and well is an adverb, meaning that if we are describing how we do something (in this case, how we perform the action of whipping it) we should instead say “Whip it well.

Rule 2: for SAT grammar, every pronoun must agree in number with its antecedent.

Big Girls Don’t Cry – Fergie

Since SAT grammar requires that every pronoun agrees with its antecedent, there is a common SAT grammar error in the line, “I’m not gonna miss you/like a child misses their blanket.” The pronoun their is plural, but its antecedent is the singular a child, which is a big no-no for SAT grammar. In many situations it is now more acceptable to use forms of the word they to refer to a singular subject when you don’t know the subject’s gender, but on the SAT the correct version of this lyric would be, “I’m not gonna miss you/like a child misses his or her blanket.”

BONUS ERROR: What about gonna?!? Yep, that colloquialism is generally frowned upon as well, but in general context is the deciding factor, meaning that such an informal usage would be inappropriate in a formal context, but it isn’t unequivocally wrong.

Rule 3: for SAT grammar, every pronoun must be the correct case.

Bad Romance – Lady Gaga

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – Queen

Both of these songs use the wrong pronoun for the context. In Bad Romance, Lady Gaga sings, “You and me could write a bad romance.” We need to use the subjective case when we are the subject; i.e. when we are the ones doing the action, we have to use pronouns “I/he/she/we/they.” Another way of thinking about this is this: since we would say, “I could write a bad romance” and not, “Me could write a bad romance,” the lyric should actually be “You and I could write a bad romance.”

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy has a similar error but in reverse, incorrectly using the objective case. The lyric is, “I’d like for you and I to go romancing.” Since the narrator is here both the subject and the object, he really should use the reflexive case and say, “I’d like for you and myself to go romancing.” Though that is grammatical, it is also extremely awkward and overly wordy, so it would be even better to just change it to, “I’d like for us to go romancing.”

Rule 3a: for SAT grammar, every relative pronoun must be the correct case.

Ghostbusters – Ray Parker, Jr.

Who Do You Love? – L.L. Cool J. feat. Total / Bo Diddly / George Thorogood and the Destroyers / The Doors

In the main theme from this classic movie, Ray Parker, Jr. asks, “Who you gonna call?” There are a fair number of errors here. There’s good old “gonna,” there is no verb (gonna is a contracting of the gerund “going” and the preposition “to,” and a gerund can’t exist without a verb), but the error that we are most likely to see on the SAT is the incorrect case. Since “you” are going to perform the action of calling the Ghostbusters, “you” are the subject and “who” is the object. We could rearrange this question to be, “You are going to call who?” We should know that for objects we are supposed to use the pronoun “whom,” so the lyric should really be, “Whom are you going to call?” Hmmm, somehow that doesn’t quite have the same ring.

Who Do You Love? is the title to several songs; there are a few hip hop tracks with that title and song by Bo Diddly that has been covered many times. This is the same error: since “you” are doing the loving, the titles should all be “Whom Do You Love?”

Rule 3b: for SAT grammar, every relative pronoun must be the right word for the job.

Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye

We can think of pronouns as kind of like variables in math because a variable can generally represent any value. Just like x can refer to any value, a word like “it” can refer to almost anything! However, in the same was that a variable might have restrictions (e.g. ), pronouns (including relative pronouns) generally have restrictions as well. For example, we can’t use the word “when” to refer to anything except a time, or “where” to refer to anything except a place. For SAT grammar, we should use the words “who” or “whom” to refer to people. This is how this construction might look on the SAT:

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.

Keeping in mind that we should use “who” or “whom” for people, we can pretty quickly eliminate answer choices A) and B). It’s rude to call a person a witch and it’s rude to call a person a “which.” To determine whether we should use “who” or “whom,” identify who is the subject in the passage. In this case, I used to know you, so you are the object and we should use “whom.” Next time you are belting out this song at karaoke, do us all a favor and sing, “Now you’re just somebody whom I used to know.”

This blog post was written by A-List Educational Consultant (and musical genius), Dory Schultz. 

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