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A song by the heavy metal band Manowar includes these lines:

Carry we who die in battle

Over land and sea

The "we" sounds wrong for me. I'd use "us" in this sentence. A quick google search didn't show any similar constructions with "we".

The "we" is a rather long-drawn sound in the song, so my best guess is that this wouldn't have worked with the sharp, short "us". But it is really completely wrong, or is there some way to justify this usage?

Note that all band members are born in the US, so they are native speakers.

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  • And you think song lyrics (and even poetry) needs to be grammatically correct because ...? – bib Aug 22 '14 at 18:18
  • Did I say it needs to be? I was asking if there is a construction that I don't know of that allows "we", not criticizing the song. – helm Aug 22 '14 at 18:36
  • My comment was meant to suggest that there is a great deal of poetic license extended to lyrics. As the discussion below points out, it is not grammatically correct. – bib Aug 22 '14 at 19:36
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There is no way to justify we there according to conventional rules if it is supposed to be the object of carry. It should be us:

Carry us who die in battle over land and sea.

The reason why this writer mistakenly used we is probably as follows. The relative pronoun who is the subject of the relative clause, and who refers back to we, so a hint of "subjectivity" might cling to we as well, in the subconscious of the writer. But this is not done in conventional English.

What Janus says below could be another reason: there are some well known phrases where both the antecedent and the relative pronoun are the subjects of their respective clauses (main clause and relative clause), in which case we who would be correct.

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    And probably also because of familiar “we who” phrases (“We who are about to die salute you”, etc.). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '14 at 18:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet But the we there is the subject of salute. – bib Aug 22 '14 at 19:37
  • @bib Yes, in that phrase it is perfectly fine and grammatical—I meant that phrases like that (which are grammatical) can serve as the analogical basis for considering we who a bit of an element to itself, and then start using that in places where it doesn’t belong, like here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '14 at 19:38
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Seductive, but like much that seeks to seduce, ... – bib Aug 22 '14 at 19:39
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Song lyrics are subjective and more dependent on sound, scansion and rhythm than sense, let alone grammar; that is why ELU prefers not to deal with them. This specific question, though, is a reasonable one. There is just one possibility. A Norse Valkyrie might sing the phrase to mean "We carry those who die in battle..."; if she can't get Wagner to write her theme tune, heavy metal would be a good second best.

(99.9% of English users would say "No, has to be us", and I've never properly encountered such a construction. But I recall a hymn starting "There is a book, who runs may read", and hearing a sermon about the grammar. Sadly, I wasn't listening closely enough to enligten you some thirty years later).

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It is grammatically correct. "We" is subject of the phrase "we who die in battle," and therefore is in the nominative case.

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    No. This is wrong. We is not the subject of anything, and we who die in battle is not a phrase. Who is the subject of the relative clause who die in battle, with we/us in the main clause being the antecedent to this subject. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '14 at 18:24
  • You are correct. I should not have tossed off "phrase" quite so flippantly. In the strict sense of sentence diagramming, I was wrong. I used "phrase" in its everyday sense of a group of related words. Nevertheless, "we" is correct, though awkward. Compare with Kipling's famous "God, have mercy on such as we." – Linda Stephenson Aug 22 '14 at 18:34
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    Fowler gives an example of the form “Do not follow he who breaks the law.” saying (correctly) that the correct version is “Do not follow him who breaks the law.” The pronoun is apparently being forced to do dual duty here, but takes the accusative case, being governed by the verb in the main clause. 'Carry we who die in battle', like 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone', is incorrect. Think of 'Do not follow him (the one who breaks the law).' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '14 at 18:55
  • @LindaStephenson: The reason why you can use we after as and than is that those words are conventionally said to be conjunctions, not prepositions, introducing (elliptical) clauses, which can have (nominative) subjects. So that is different. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Aug 22 '14 at 19:28

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