writing pen with text Tips for Writers

The correct use of bring and brought

I’ve noted before that songwriters sometimes choose words they like the sound of, even if their usage is not grammatically correct. (Fans usually forgive them!) Neil Diamond’s 1972  song “Play Me” is another example in this category:

“Song she sang to me,
Song she brang to me”

(You can see from the next two lines why the songwriter wanted to maintain the rhyme here:)

“Words that rang in me
Rhyme that sprang from me”

Why is brang objectionable? The past tense of the verb to bring (“I’ll bring the wine when I come for dinner next week.”) is brought:

Thinking of him brought a smile to my face.

She brought me the perfect gift.

Perhaps the confusion arises, in part, because ring, rang, and rung are the correct forms of the verb to ring.

“Ring the bell and I’ll come out.”

I rang the bell, but no one answered.

I regretted it immediately. I had rung that bell one time too many.

People don’t always use proper English when they converse, and written dialogue mirrors the way people talk. Poets and songwriters can be forgiven for fudging a bit when attempting to find the right word that rhymes or fits the cadence of their work. Writers are free to express themselves in whatever ways they choose; incorrect usage, when effective, won’t prevent a song (or poem or novel) from becoming popular. Consider:

“Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers)

“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (The Police, lyrics by Sting) (“Everything she do just turns me on”)

Of course, some forced rhymes come off sounding ridiculous (to my ear):

“When you cheated girl, my heart bleeded girl” (“What Goes Around… Comes Around,” Justin Timberlake)

(I don’t think I’d have appreciated the song as a tween, either.)

Tip: Brang and brung are not standard English words; do not use them in formal writing or as a substitute for bring. If you use them at all (e.g., if they reflect the dialect of the region your character is from), use them for the past and past participle forms of to bring.

“He brang it to my house.” (“He brought it to my house.”)

“I weren’t brung up that way.” (I wasn’t brought up that way.”)

“I brung ya yer lunch.” (“I brought you your lunch.”)

“I’da brung ye some bread if I’d know’d ye wuz out.” (“I would have brought you some bread if I’d known you were out.”)

(And in case you’re wondering, the past tense of bleed is bled: She bled all over the table.)

 

 

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