In the beginning of movie "Forrest Gump", Gump said:

1. I wish I had shoes like that.

Why did Gump said "that"? Is it correct? And what about "I wish I had shoes like those?"

2. She said they was my magic shoes.

Why it's "they was" not "they were" nor "it was"?

These questions have puzzled me for a couple of years. I had asked some friends who learnt English, but they didn't know either. They said: "Maybe Gump is not smart"

  • You are welcome to point out any mistake in this question, since my English is not good, and I'm learning.
    – Freewind
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:23
  • For 2., the issue is more general as the subjunctive is being replaced by the past tense. See this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/37536/… Aug 25, 2011 at 17:52
  • 2
    @Bogdan, this is not a matter of the subjunctive, but a matter of lack of subject-verb concord. Sentence #2 is very much non-standard, though this is on purpose (see my answer). Aug 25, 2011 at 17:55
  • @JSB Right, because of the use of past tense in indirect speech. However, I keep my comment-it is interesting that "were" becomes "was" (in informal speech) either as a subjunctive or as a lack of number concord of the past tense. Aug 25, 2011 at 19:23
  • Don't try to learn English by watching movies about hillbillies, it will only make your brain hurt. While in the south, I have heard phrases such as "All y'all don't know nutt'n about barbecue, let me show you we does it in the south...". Aug 25, 2011 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

  1. Saying like that or like those are basically synonymous in this context. Saying like that is a shortening of something like "I wish I had shoes like you do", where the understood clause you do acts as the antecedent of "that".
  2. Here, Gump's grammar is simply incorrect from the perspective of standard English. This incorrectness is deliberate, however, as it illustrates both Gump's limited intelligence and the non-standard features of his Southern dialect.

1 is debatable and 2 is clearly grammatically incorrect. Those kind of grammatical errors are perceived to be common amongst the rural uneducated, which is how they're trying to present and characterize Gump at the outset.

  • 1
    ...not errors exactly, but a different dialect. The fact that Gump doesn't speak standard English may truly be a sign of his lack of intelligence (lack of education in such a standard or separately a lack of facility to pick up the Northern standard.
    – Mitch
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:39
  • @Mitch "they was my magic shoes" is a grammatical error, dialect or no. As far as lack of intelligence, I thought I was clear in that we are speaking of a perception. You can argue that the perception doesn't exist I guess, but I can't imagine many people who have lived in the US for the last 40+ years or so will agree with you.
    – kekekela
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:41
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    to be pedantic, it is an error of standard American English, and is not an error in some non-standard dialects. It is common to call divergent phenomena in the non-standard dialects as 'errors', and they are called of as such in schools (where standard speech forms are taught) and you would be right that people would freak out if the New York Times sincerely used such grammar. Maybe you just don't have much experience with people who talk like that everyday (who are educated -and- not making an 'error', just using a (hardly) different dialect).
    – Mitch
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:57
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    @Mitch Yeah, I'm from the south where people talk like that all the time, but not in English class, where they get called out for their bad grammar. I guess if you're going with the "nothing is bad grammar since anything that's ever been uttered is dialect" argument, that's pretty tough to argue against though.
    – kekekela
    Aug 25, 2011 at 18:09
  • I'm not that extreme; I don't believe 'anything goes'. I believe there is a well-founded (but not razor-sharp) demarcation between a 'well-formed utterance' and a mistake, and that demarcation depends on context. But without that context or in mixing up contexts you can't tell. Also, the culture here at this site, ELU, leans away from the prescriptive, so there's that, too.
    – Mitch
    Aug 25, 2011 at 20:26

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