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Here is the lyric: https://www.google.com/search?q=better+dig+two+lyrics

Excerpt:

I told you on the day we wed
I was gonna love you 'til I's dead
Made you wait 'til our wedding night
That's the first and the last time I wear white

As far as I can tell it should rather be "til I'm dead", what am I missing?

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    I think the situation is more complex. There is grammar happening here, it just isn't standard English. There are some rules about which rules can be broken. Or how far they can be broken before the lyrics become gibberish. Learners should not use lyrics as models of spoken English, because they do bend and break the "rules"
    – James K
    Jun 22 '17 at 19:36
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    I consider this a perfectly valid question. I've asked questions about lyrics in my non-native languages too that have been well received. Sometimes you encounter a term and you're not sure whether you're supposed to dismiss it as artistic licence or whether it represents a gap in your knowledge. That's a legitimate question. Lyrics do break the rules sometimes, but they also give very direct access to idiomatic expressions and cultural norms that make up an indispensable part of language education. The very idea of ruling out music-related questions is absurd. Jun 22 '17 at 20:19
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    Do you clearly understand that there is no such thing as a "violation", and that there are no "acceptable ranges" In English? We have no authority which can "permit" or "prohibit" any such violations. Lyrics, poetry, and prose in English are written just as the writer pleases. Jun 22 '17 at 20:20
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    @P.E.Dant Indeed, as is every sentence "from the mouths of babes" — and adults. :) One might as well say there should be no questions about the English used at work, at school, in politics, between siblings, or anywhere else because the particular constraints of the genre of discourse would contaminate your understanding of "standard" English. As if there were such a thing as an English, or any other languages, divorced from its real-life uses. And music enters people's lives and influences their speech habits perhaps more than any other art. Jun 22 '17 at 20:23
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    I would like to remind folks that comments are for clarifying the question, not answering it. @468 you should edit your question to add some of the things you've explained in your comments.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 22 '17 at 20:52
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This does exist in variants of the African-American Vernacular dialect (see this thread), also referred to as "Ebonics". (It may also appear in some rural Southern dialects.) The feature in play is the simplified conjugation of "to be" to is for every subject (and was in the past tense).

It's also plausible that a band consisting of three siblings from a non-African-American background who speak without a trace of AAVE could still adopt AAVE styles for songs in musical genres that are derived or at least borrow from traditionally Black folk music, as country does. Performances often match the culture out of which a genre arises; compare Iggy Azalea in hip-hop. The family also comes from Mississippi, where they could very well have been exposed to AAVE.

However, I don't believe either is actually the case in this song. I think it's just a quickly sung "I was".

  1. The two words "I was" (around 0:18 in this video), although spoken quickly, can actually be heard separately as /a əz/ by a careful ear (like that of @StoneyB below). They are spoken quickly because they occupy one musical beat. But even if the two words had become one syllable, it wouldn't be the first time in the history of the language that someone thought of contracting them.

    As for the transcription, lyric sites are not known to be meticulously accurate, and errors tend to propagate easily since many lyric sites appear to scrape each other's content or use the same sources. If you have liner notes, those are a more authoritative reference. (Though even official YouTube channels can be wrong; this video's description skips a whole line in the final chorus!)

  2. The dialect doesn't really show up in the rest of the song (if my ear is reliable).

  3. At the end of the chorus (around 1:05 in the same video) we hear the line "If you go before I do, I'm gonna tell the gravedigger."

These reasons don't fully rule out this being a case of "I's" for "I'm". Many artists do seize on isolated but salient features of another dialect for artistic purposes or cultural cred. But I'd bet on "I was".

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    This is basically my native dialect (Ms Perry hails from the state next door), and I agree completely: that's /aəz/, not /az/. Jun 23 '17 at 0:02
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Do not expect song lyrics to follow the rules of standard English grammar.

In standard English one would say "I was going to love you until I died". But that doesn't fit the song. The pattern "I is" is non-standard, but exists in some American dialects.

As a learner, you have correctly recognised this as non-standard English, and is therefore to be avoided (in formal speech and writing).

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  • which dialect is it? Jun 22 '17 at 19:34
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    Specifically, Black, i.e. African-American English may use is for all copulas: I is, you is, they is, etc. See this answer for a bit more.
    – Robusto
    Jun 22 '17 at 19:37
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    It certainly exists in AAVE, and maybe others. I'm not enough of an expert on American dialects.
    – James K
    Jun 22 '17 at 19:39
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    The song was written by a bunch of white kids from Nashville. The degree to which they commit the sin of cultural expropriation by aping AAVE is known only to them. Sounds to me like standard gimme-hat lingo. Jun 22 '17 at 20:26
  • @Robusto - This lyric strikes me more as C&W than Hip-hop or R&B, so I presumed this dialect to be very white. But I'm unfamiliar with the song, so it's not black-and-white to me.
    – J.R.
    Jun 22 '17 at 21:14
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I just want to expound on the answer by JamesK.

There are at least two reasons you shouldn't expect song lyrics to follow grammar rules:

  • Songs follow certain rhythm and rhyming schemes. Lyricists will often bend the rules of English to make a song fit their rhythm, or force a rhyme.

  • Songwriters often use informal English to set the tone for the speaker. Music is supposed to convey emotion. People in love don't speak to one another as if they are giving a formal talk at a conference. Folk singers, country singers, and rap singers try to portray the kind of people they are singing about, complete with the inelegant street language they so often use.

A few weeks ago, someone pointed me to a Bob Dylan lyric that is sprinkled with good examples. Remember, Bob Dylan was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for literature! But many of his lyrics would make a 3rd-grade teacher get out a red pen and start marking up all the "improper" English:

It ain’t no ^wouldn't be any use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t^doesn't matter, anyhow
An’ ^And it ain’t no^wouldn't be any use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ ^traveling on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no ^There isn't any use in turnin’ ^turning on your light, babe
That light I never knowed ^knew
An’ ^And it ain’t no ^there isn't any use in turnin’ ^turning on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
I ain’t sayin’ ^I'm not saying you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda ^only wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

(To see the full original in its unedited form, click here.)

There, I've made Bob Dylan's English conform to the grammar books – but I've practically ruined his song in the process! I've removed rhymes, I've disrupted the rhythm, I've cut out parallelism, and (perhaps most importantly), I've stripped mournful tone out of the main character's soul.

In the original, I can sense that the spurned man probably has unkempt hair and is wearing faded blue jeans while driving away in his 10-year-old vehicle. In my version, he might well have a funeral director's perfectly parted hair, along with a charcoal gray suit complemented by a conservative red necktie as he rides away in a brand-new, white Mercedes.

So, the next time you see a song lyrics that uses something non-standard, like "I was gonna love you 'til I's dead," just remember the immortal words of Bob Dylan:

Don't think twice, it's all right.

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