3

What is the difference between:

Don't go breaking my heart

and

Don't go break my heart

I can only think "breaking" to me might be speaking to a pattern of behavior - and so the ongoing sense. But grammatically I think both could be one event or ongoing. I'm interested in learning from others if there is a strong consensus or historical convention. This is motivated by use in music, on the occasion of the new Backstreet song.

6

As a speaker of American English, the following sentences are idiomatic to me.

Don't go breaking my heart.

Don't break my heart.

The following has a different meaning from the above:

Don't go break my heart.

It is difficult to paraphrase nuance. The results are usually very wooden and stilted.

The simple imperative isn't nuanced. It is an admonition not to break my heart.

However, don't go breaking my heart means something like "Now that I have become vulnerable, don't proceed to break my heart."

The progressive, go + participle, draws subtle attention to the fact that an enabling circumstance exists from which the action might readily proceed.

Consider:

Don't point that shotgun at anybody, you hear me?

Now that I've let you hold it, don't go pointing that shotgun at anybody, you hear me?

Grandpa isn't really likely to say to his grandson "Don't go pointing that shotgun at anybody" if grandson doesn't even have his hands on the gun yet, or if Grandpa is still on the fence about whether grandson Johnny is mature enough to go a-huntin'.

If grandpa says to Johnny, "Don't you point that shotgun at anyone", an eager Johnny might not know that Grandpa has decided to let Johnny use it. But once he hears the words "Don't you go pointing that shotgun at anybody", Johnny knows the decision has been made. The circumstance that will enable him to go pointing that gun is already here, or right nigh.

Until that point, Grandpa is more likely to use the simple imperative, "Don't you point that gun at anybody." And that isn't to say he couldn't use the simple imperative beyond that point.

The third one, Don't go break my heart uses go in a different way. It doesn't mean "proceed to" or "set about to" but is the literal meaning of go. When you go where you plan to go, don't break my heart by what you do there.

  • I appreciate your effort at parsing out the meaning. That's really more my interest than what is most standard. Maybe I should make a new question that contrasts several, more typical phrases. – Mike M Jul 2 '18 at 15:15
  • A side question: does "go get" mean "go and get" or "go to get" in American English? – dan Jul 2 '18 at 15:47
  • 1
    @dan: I would say go get doesn't mean "go with the intention of getting" (i.e. to get) but "go and get". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 2 '18 at 15:51
2

I'm a native British English speaker, and your second sentence...

Don't go break my heart

... sounds completely incorrect to me. I've never heard it said, and it doesn't make grammatical sense.

Don't go breaking my heart

This isn't something anybody would say, either, but it is a song lyric, and it makes sense in a sort of colloquial, slightly Americanised, poetic kind of way.

That said, the other sentence may be okay in American English. Americans use the verb "go" differently in casual speech to the British. For example:

British English
"Let's go and get something to eat"

American English
"Let's go get something to eat"

Americanisms have crept into English, more-so in song lyrics than speech. But thanks to the far-reaching influence of Hollywood movies nearly everybody in the UK understands Americanisms even if we don't use them while speaking.

In my opinion, the correct way to say and not sing this statement would be:

Don't go and break my heart.

1

I think you need to consider an implied difference.

don't go (around) breaking my heart

which is in the present and ongoing.

vs.

don't go (and) break my heart

anticipating a sudden future event.

1

"Don't go doing something" is a phrase used in spoken English for telling somebody not to do something. For example:

Take your time and don't go rushing into anything (Macmillan).

So, "Don't go breaking (-ing form) my heart" is correct.

  • that makes sense... can you tell why it's different from "Don't go break my heart" ? I think this way is also an imperative – Mike M Jul 2 '18 at 4:03
  • @MikeM, It's an idiomatic expression. There's no particular reason why we say it instead of something else similar. Nonetheless we do say "Don't go breaking my heart" and we don't say "Don't go break my heart". – The Photon Jul 2 '18 at 4:22
1

Bear in mind that pop music is never a good starting point when looking at grammatical rules. It tends to be quite informal, and sometimes a lot of artistic licence is used.

Both of the expressions you suggest are used in informal English, however the go break version is probably a lot more likely to occur in US English than UK English: see this NGram graph for a similar usage go get. The graph also shows go and get, which is more formal and is used equally in UK and US.

I don't think that there is any significant difference in meaning: the progressive form after go suggests informality, rather than any progressive meaning.

  • I learnt that not all verbs can be applied in go + verb structure from here: learnamericanenglishonline.com/Red%20Level/R26_go+verb.html – dan Jul 2 '18 at 6:50
  • @dan, that's probably true. I'm British, so I don't know which verbs it can be used for. I chose go get for the NGrams because I know that that expression is widely used. I don't think the same restrictions apply to go and .... – JavaLatte Jul 2 '18 at 7:11

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