Is this punctuated correctly?

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why oh why can’t I?"

Or should “oh why” be set off by commas?

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,
Why, oh why, can’t I?

  • 1
    I'm curious...seeing as that is an established lyric from the song "Over the Rainbow", is there a reason you wouldn't look up the punctuation online or did you find conflicting versions of punctuation for the song? Mar 26, 2015 at 21:24
  • Because it's a song lyric and why oh why can't is four consecutive quavers to be sung as a single rising phrase. Mar 26, 2015 at 21:26
  • 2
    @KristinaLopez There's always a big ritard on it, because it's the final phrase, and any artist may perform it with any degree of rubato; but the original and still canonical performance by Judy Garland takes it as written. I think there's a deal of musical symbolism in that tag, with the straining and fluttering giving way finally to an effortless soar on the final phrase. Mar 26, 2015 at 22:55
  • 1
    @KristinaLopez If (as appears to be the case) Yip Harburg wrote it without commas, that's the way it should be printed; lyrics are meant to be sung by singers, not read by readers. (And there's really no reason but convention to point it; people don't say it that way, either.) Mar 26, 2015 at 23:09
  • 5
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because song lyrics famously don't have 'incorrect' punctuation. Mar 26, 2015 at 23:17

2 Answers 2


I think the commas after the "why"s are rests, and are needed because Garland shifts from a 2 4 rhythm to a 3 4 rhythm beginning at the two measures I've marked with ||. (I'm not saying that's in the score, but I've just listened to the song a bunch of times, and I think that's what she does.)

If |happy |little |bluebirds |fly be|yond the |rainbow, ||why, oh ||why, can't ||I?

Afterthoughts: But maybe the first of those rests comes after "oh" instead of before it. And it should be a 4 4 rhythm, not 2 4.

If |happy little |bluebirds fly be|yond the rainbow, ||why oh, ||why, can't ||I?


The second one is correctly punctuated; however, it does not require a capital "W".

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I?

  • I think I might have put a semi-colon rather than a comma after 'rainbow'.
    – WS2
    Mar 26, 2015 at 21:51
  • 5
    With no sources or even explanations as to why you consider the second correctly punctuated (and presumably thus the first incorrectly punctuated), this seems more like just stating an opinion than giving an actual, factual answer. Mar 26, 2015 at 23:14

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