If it ain't broke, don't fix it

an idiom says. Why isn't it

If it ain't broken, don't fix it

On the other hand the lyrics of a song "Victory" played by a band "Deliverance" are as follows:

The time has come for you to choose 
Choose whom you will serve 
As for me and my band 
Christ we have chose to serve

Why isn't it

have chosen to serve

What is that strange construction with the past form instead of the past participle? It looks as if a mistake had been made...

  • 1
    Are you sure that "chose" isn't an alternate form of the past participle? The OED has a note on "chose" as a past participle: "Occasional in Middle English, but very frequent in 18th c." Deliverance may have borrowed this form from an old hymn. And with those lyrics, chosen wouldn't scan. – Peter Shor Oct 2 '14 at 15:18
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    You mention the grammaticality of broke, but look at it. It is preceded by ain't. Clearly its register needs to be taken into account. The same for the song: people bend rules to fit the meter or mood. You can't learn grammaticality from songs, or folksy old sayings. – anongoodnurse Oct 2 '14 at 18:08

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The saying uses "broke" because it's deliberately going for a folksy, non-grammatical feel of homespun wisdom. The implication is that simple people (those least likely to adhere to strict grammar rules) have an innate common sense that the more refined among us do not share. Such people tend to use "ain't" for "isn't" and "broke" for "broken" in that case.

In other words, it simply wouldn't be as convincing to say

If it isn't broken, don't fix it.


I'll further note that the OP's construction, which mixes ain't with broken, violates the register's integrity by mixing a grammatical syntactical element ("broken") with an "ungrammatical" one ("ain't"). So it gets the tone wrong as well. It would be a little like showing up in formal wear to a barbecue.

Point of clarification

I do not mean to imply that the construction is ungrammatical, only that it is perceived as such by habitues of a more formal register. That's why I was careful to qualify my references to grammaticality.

  • 2
    But even in dialect, this is probably the past participle and not the simple past. The OED says "broke" is an alternative past participle for broken. And Google Ngrams shows that "broke" is used for the past participle around 5 percent of the time, and "took" only 0.3 percent. – Peter Shor Oct 2 '14 at 15:29
  • 1
    The statement uses past for past participle in this case. – Robusto Oct 2 '14 at 15:32
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    Robusto: and how do you know that broke isn't a "folksy" alternative form of the past participle? There are dialects that use "broke" instead of "broken" as the past participle of "break". Probly the same ones that use "ain't". – Peter Shor Oct 2 '14 at 15:33
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    Now I'm not sure what your issue is. That particular register commonly mixes past for participle in both directions ("I seen him the other day", "He come in here just the other day", etc.) – Robusto Oct 2 '14 at 15:45
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    I can't see how this should matter. The reason I gave is sufficient to explain the phenomenon, regardless of whether it's past participle or past tense. If you have a rebuttal to my post, please give it. Your criticism, if it is that, seems tangential at best. – Robusto Oct 2 '14 at 19:55

Because the phrase is not in standard English, it is in any of several dialects in which ain't broke is grammatical.

It is true that the phrase is often used by people who do not otherwise use such dialects: in that sense, its almost a foreign phrase, like je ne sais quoi.

  • 1
    Marmistrz asked "Why isn't it X", and said "It looks as if a mistake has been made". I believe I answered that. – Colin Fine Oct 3 '14 at 13:39

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