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guess some of you know the song "Grenade" from Bruno Mars, one of the lines is:

Should've known you was trouble from the first kiss

English isn't my mother tongue, but "was trouble" just sounds wrong in my ears. Is that some kind of slang?

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Lyrics and poetry are licensed to take grammar into their hands ;)? – Kris Jan 20 '12 at 10:22
In general (and IMHO in this case) Lyrics and poetry are off-topic. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 14:58
Absolutely off topic. Poetry questions discussed in chat. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 22 '12 at 11:12
'you was trouble' is common in non-standard varieties of English, in very informal/rural American English/AAVE (I don't know about other varieties). It's not restricted to Southern AmE, but seems to be in all varieties. – Mitch Jan 6 '13 at 18:19
up vote 1 down vote accepted

In general, you can't expect pop music to contain the kind of language that an English teacher would consider correct.

There is a whole spectrum of language styles, ranging from dialect that outsiders can barely understand, through to the received English that is appropriate in most fiction, non-fiction, newspaper articles, essays and so on.

(That this has to be explained leads me to wonder how it can be any different in the cultures of other languages)

"You was" instead of "you were" is not "received" English. Yet talk to real people, and you will hear it all the time. And, indeed, the other way around.

"You was talking to me."

"She were here last night."

You wouldn't be at all surprised to hear these in the pub. You would be astonished to hear a newsreader or continuity announcer say them.

I don't think it is sensible for a non-native speaker to attempt to learn dialect, unless they are already speaking received English to a very high standard.

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No it isn't slang. Slang describes a particular kind of vocabulary, not grammar. Some varieties of English have a regular past tense for the verb be in that they use the same form, was, for all persons and numbers. Standard English is not one of them. In Standard English be has an irregular past tense, with was only for the first and third persons singular and were for all other persons. Foreign learners of English learn the standard variety, and that is why the line sounded strange to you.

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Even Should've known you were trouble from the first kiss sounds odd to me. Me, I would say was in trouble / were in trouble. For me (german), it's ok to say have trouble, make trouble, but be in trouble. Could you say something to that point? – Em1 Jan 20 '12 at 9:49
@Em1: If you say someone is ‘in trouble’, you mean that that person is EXPERIENCING some kind of difficulty. If you say someone ‘is trouble’, you mean that that person is the SOURCE of some kind of difficulty. – Barrie England Jan 20 '12 at 9:58
So it's actually correct in "some varieties of English"? But incorrect in standard English? – Feroc Jan 20 '12 at 10:25
@Feroc: 'Was' for all persons and numbers is grammatical in some non-standard varieties, but it is not grammatical in Standard English. I'd say that '[be] trouble' is Standard English, but rather informal. Other collocations are '[mean] trouble' and [spell] trouble'. – Barrie England Jan 20 '12 at 10:47

“Should’ve known you was trouble from the first kiss” is grammatically correct African American dialect.

Present-tense verbs are uninflected for number/person: there is no -s ending in the present-tense third-person singular. Example: She write poetry ("She writes poetry"). Similarly, was is used for what in standard English are contexts for both was and were. (Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-89138-8, p. 38)¹

If a child says, “You was sitting in my chair,” I say to them, “L2 please – you were sitting in my chair.”²

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It's worth noting that the musician under discussion, Bruno Mars is from Hawaii, so he might be familiar with Hawaiian Pidgin, which is different from Standard American English in some of the same ways as AAVE. Among his influences and associations are also many musicians who use AAVE grammar in their music to various extents (for example, R. Kelly, Ce Lo Green). – aedia λ Jan 20 '12 at 21:43

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