There is a line from the film Dreamcatcher, spoken by Pete.

Motherfucker tried to bite my dick off, Jonesy. I always thought it'd be my ex-wife did that.

It sounds jarringly ungrammatical to me, even for informal speech. I understand it means "I always thought it'd be my ex-wife that was going to do it." Is this way of speaking common? And am I right to say it is ungrammatical?

  • You'll need to explain what you mean by "acceptable". Spoken English and written English are completely different. Things like dialect also affect speech patterns... so where it's acceptable to you is at question.
    – Catija
    Apr 2, 2018 at 15:31
  • 2
    [...]it'd be my wife who'd do that. But, hey, people say a lot of dumb stuff, and Hollywood screen writers take liberties that may go beyond what actually would be said. Though many are English majors, like most English majors, they don't know grammar and therefore don't know how reproduce good non-standard speech. my ex-wife did that here simply sounds like a non-native actually. To me. It does not even sound uneducated.
    – Lambie
    Apr 2, 2018 at 15:55
  • Last night, I got drunk because I thought it was me won the lottery covers exactly the same (relevant) syntactic ground without the distracting coarse content of the actual example cited. Apr 2, 2018 at 19:33
  • The relative clause is simply missing a relative pronoun: You'd think it'd be the striker [ Ø ] scored the goal in that setup, not the center-back. It's the early bird gets the worm.
    – TimR
    Apr 2, 2018 at 20:50
  • And I disagree with Lambie. did is backshifted there because the clause [who] did that complements a form of irrealis: I always thought it would be my ex-wife... I always thought it would be you who had the good luck.
    – TimR
    Apr 2, 2018 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


While technically ungrammatical, it's not very unusual to hear in some dialects or parts of the country, in Britain at least. However it is definitely not correct speech, and you certainly wouldn't write it down except in dialogue.


As it stands it's ungrammatical. Inserting "that" would form a grammatical sentence.

I always thought it'd be my ex wife that did that."

In speech, the word "that" may be reduced and may be difficult to hear. It might be reduced to [ʔə].

  • I wouldn't go quite as far as to call it "ungrammatical". Would non-standard do? Dropping of the relative pronoun is not uncommon in many dialects.
    – TimR
    Apr 2, 2018 at 20:57

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