Christmastime Grammar Errors!
Now that Christmas is over, I can share with you a grammatical pet peeve that I have this time of year. Santa Claus may be coming to town, but he’s not bringing correct grammar with him!
In case you’ve forgotten the lyrics to this classic carol, it goes like this:
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Hold on a second, though – “you better watch out”? That’s not right.
You’d better watch out would be ok – that’s the contraction of “you had”, and that works in the sentence – “you had better watch out” is grammatically correct. “You better”, on the other hand, goes against grammar and style guides – it’s missing the auxiliary verb.
This is a bit counterintuitive to modern-day English speakers and learners, of course. The point of language is to communicate, and everyone knows what you mean when you say “you better watch out” – if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be in the song! It’s a perfectly acceptable word to drop in casual writing and communication, but if you try it on a formal essay, prepare for some red ink to match Santa’s red suit.
There are other English oddities in Christmas carols, of course. Many of them were written over a hundred years ago, so old fashioned English sneaks in. If you’ve grown up singing these songs, you might not notice how strange they are to modern ears. To “troll the ancient yuletide carol” sounds odd in Deck the Halls when you think about it; but “troll” is an old-fashioned way to say “sing in a full, rolling voice”. You’ll find odd prepositions like “yon” in Silent Night and old-fashioned phrases like “God rest you merry” – it’s not the gentlemen who are merry, it’s the manner of resting!
Mental Floss has a great article about these bits of grammatical confusion, and we highly recommend it. Until then, a belated Merry Christmas!
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