I love Michael Jackson. I know the song titled 'wanna be starting something' But I don't know the difference between in meaning 'wanna be starting something.' and 'wanna start something'? Could you please tell me the difference?

  • 4
    It's a valid question, but as many people here have said, don't look to songs for correct or standard grammar. Lyrics are usually written to sound good or fit the beat of the song, not to be strictly correct.
    – stangdon
    Oct 16, 2016 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


As in any language, the English used in song lyrics often has a metaphorical or cultural subtext that's more important than the pure dictionary definition. While "wanna" is vernacular for "want to", "to start something" is an slang expression that means to "cause trouble" -- to start a fight, incite a riot, whip up a protest, etc.

In the context of the song, Michael Jackson indirectly refers to the many ways the press and the media had been trying to "start something" with him, rather than just letting him be, i.e. they created rumors about his personal life, cast aspersions on his family, whatever of his they could use to make money.

To get back to your question, "want to start something" has the same meaning as "want to be starting something" -- however, you should not mistake the "to be -ing" form as a common English expression. This sentence pattern is vernacular primarily used by a particular ethnic group, and while it's probably OK to say it, you should avoid it unless you fully understand its nuance.

There's a fine line between imitation and mockery and, in the wrong environment, you might start something you didn't intend.

  • 1
    Well-put. I suspect that the use of "be gerund" in the song is a feature of Black English (or African-American Vernacular English, or whatever you want to call it) but I wouldn't dare say for sure.
    – stangdon
    Oct 16, 2016 at 18:33

wanna is the abbreviated form of 'want to' (used informally) As per Google,





want to; want a.

"you wanna know how low I've stooped?"

Coming to the sentences in questions, first let me replace the unabbreviated form:

1.Want to be starting something. 2.Want to start something

Basically speaking both the sentence formation is correct grammatically. Second sentence is the most common form and doesn't need explanation. It is verb + infinitive form.

Checkout the definition of 'want ' from dictionary.com:

to wish, need, crave, demand, or desire(often followed by an infinitive):

I want to see you. She wants to be notified.

The first sentence is also grammatically correct. It is of the form to be (verb+ing) form:

From the website phrasemix.com I have got the following definition and example:

to be (doing something)

Some sentence structures require you to use an infinitive ("to" + a verb). For example:

I want to leave.

She told me to call her.

When you need to use an infinitive, but you also want to talk about an ongoing action, use the form "to be ___ing"):

I told you to be waiting for me when I arrived.

On a day like this, I don't want to be sitting in a dark office. I want to be laying out in the sun.

Hope this explains it.

  • 1
    The dictionary is correct; however you completely miss the cultural context. I would not advise saying, "You wanna be starting something?" unless you fully understood that the actual meaning is nothing friendly, like you're suggesting a nice game of chess. Please see my answer for more details.
    – Andrew
    Oct 16, 2016 at 17:33

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