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I just heard Love yourself by Justin Bieber. I thought I heard "My mama didn't like you but she likes everyone" from the song. Then later I found lyrics on some websites(listed bellow) but it's not what I heard, it was "My mama don't like you...".

Any idea about this?

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    As you noticed, both your sources (I rush to add: apparently fan-transcribed, and non-authoritative) record the lyric as my mama don't like you and she likes everyone. That is to say, they have and where you have but, which does make more sense in English. To use but to set the two facts in contrast, you'd have to transpose them: my mama likes everyone, but she don't like you. But given the order present in the song, and is more idiomatic, and but feels misplaced. – Dan Bron Mar 21 '16 at 12:23
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    "Don't", in that context (ie, 3rd person singular), is not correct for formal speech, but is a common use in some forms of vernacular speech, and quite apt to be mimicked in popular songs. – Hot Licks Mar 21 '16 at 12:36
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    -1 for quoting Justin Bieber – Stu W Mar 21 '16 at 12:37
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    There is very little you should conclude about standard English from songs (or poems), and vice versa. We grant their writers considerable poetic license, because grammaticality and meaning are relatively unimportant compared to rhythm/prosody, rhyme, tone, singability, and so on. The most accurate lyrics may be the least grammatically correct ones, and in fact, some lyrics are simply jumbles of evocative words. There are many sites solely devoted to lyrical transcription and interpretation, like SongMeanings and Lyreka, and the communities there can present you with their own theories. – choster Mar 21 '16 at 15:29
  • "You are no one" resolves the paradox. – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 21 '16 at 19:57
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Usually, (assuming the song or poem is good at grammar), you can determine the tense of the verb by simple contextual clues, but after clicking on one of your links (and, thankfully, having never heard the song) I found that his verbs are all over the place ("you rained on my parade," "you think you broke my heart," "I'll be movin' on"), so I can't tell whether didn't or don't was used without listening to the song, which I am not doing.

Technically, the sentence "My mama don't like you, but she likes everyone" is not grammatically correct; the use of don't instead of doesn't for the third person singular is, in my experience, pretty common slang. Also, "doesn't" has too many syllables. "Didn't" instead of "don't" is correct; it has too many syllables and creates an inconsistent verb tense like the rest of the song.

In other words, it isn't.

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    Not grammatically correct in standard English but probably grammatically correct in some dialects, perhaps in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and/or imitations. – Alan Carmack Mar 21 '16 at 17:29
  • @AlanCarmack I is always talking in grammaticallyish correct in standard English of courses! – CHEESE Mar 21 '16 at 17:31
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    How can a song or poem be good at grammar? – phoog Jul 8 '16 at 20:01
  • @AlanCarmack many other dialects would use "don't" as well. – phoog Jul 8 '16 at 20:02
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Yes, in this case in a song for instance, it has to do with the tempo of the music. If you listen to the Beatles' song 'She's a woman' there's a statement that says

She don't give boys the eye

If you used doesn't it would be longer and the tempo of the music is not enough.

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There definitely isn't a "but" there. The lyric is "My mama don't like you and she likes everyone".

In terms of whether it's right or wrong: it's idiomatic usage. Native speakers will understand you.

What it means is his mother is a lovely, friendly person and even this lovely, friendly person doesn't like you which illustrates how bad you are.

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With song lyrics, as with advertising slogans, being ungrammatical is often an advantage. It makes the lyrics more memorable and less formal, and thus more intimate and relatable. Ungrammatical lyrics sound more like natural speech, and can have a more "fresh" feeling.

In addition, the native dialect of quite a lot of English-language popular music (blues, rock, jazz, hip-hop, soul and R&B) is black American vernacular English, which uses non-standard grammatical forms. The lyric in your quote would be a common construction in this English variant.

Justin Bieber's music is nominally R&B, and many of his mentors in the industry were black, factors which may have contributed to his frequent use of black American vernacular in his songs.

  • does it sound wierd in normal speaking? – lyhong Jul 9 '16 at 2:36
  • It depends on whom you are speaking to, but if English isn't your native language you're best advised to stay away from vernacular forms. Depending on audience, it may come across as ignorant, affected or offensive. – Chris Sunami Jul 9 '16 at 13:42

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