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Why Do Songs Break Grammar Rules?

Why Do Songs Break Grammar Rules?
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Hello! Our question for today on Ask a Teacher comes from a reader in Brazil.


I have an easy question. Why does Sir Elton John use “don’t” and not “doesn’t” in the song This Train Don't Stop There Anymore?


Luiz, Brazil

Dear Luiz,

That’s a great question. As an English teacher, I often hear things in songs that do not follow grammar rules. Sometimes, I believe it is because the songwriter wants to speak in a way that is used by another community. Also, informal, or everyday, language is often not completely grammatical.

Songwriting partners

Let’s look at some of the words of This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore. It appears in a collection of songs called Songs from the West Coast, published in 2001. The songwriter Bernie Taupin co-wrote this and many other songs with Elton John. Taupin wrote the words and John wrote the music. Taupin said he was always interested in “Americana,” the culture and history of America, and in country and western music. That helps explain the images and language he put into this song.

In the first part, the singer says he does not believe in miracles anymore and has lost strong feelings about romantic love. The second part brings in images of an old kind of train:

I used to be the main express
All steam and whistles heading west
Picking up my pain from door to door
Riding on the storyline, furnace burning overtime
But this train don't stop
This train don't stop
This train don't stop there anymore

The singer tells us of the strong emotions he once had by comparing them to a fast, or express, train. The high, sharp sound of a train warning people of its approach is called a whistle. Old trains used to be powered by steam engines that let out whistles as they passed through towns.

If we connect these words to the earlier part of the song, we can get a picture in our mind of a lonely, isolated place. A town where the train no longer stops is usually a quiet place with little activity. We can suppose that town is like the singer’s heart.

My understanding of the song is that the singer is saying he no longer wants to be in love because the feeling is too strong. Continuing the image of the train, he sings,

It really means my engine's breaking down

What do you think, Luiz? Would the song be just as good if Elton John sang, “That train doesn’t stop there anymore?” Maybe it would not have the quality of informal language Taupin was hoping for.

And that’s Ask a Teacher for this week. Do you have a question for the teacher? Write to us at

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for Learning English.

This Train Don't Stop There Anymore lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


Words in This Story

informal – adj. words, phrases, and idioms in speech or writing that are casual, ordinary, or colloquial

miracle –n. an unusual or powerful event believed to be caused by God

isolated – adj. separated from other persons or things; alone; solitary

What do you think of songs that break grammar rules? Are there any in your language, too? Write to us in the Comments Section.