Learn Indefinite Pronouns with 'Fast Car'

07 March 2024

On today's Everyday Grammar, we are going to look at things that are different from each other: in other words, contrasts.

Let's start:

At the 2024 Grammy awards, one performance got the attention of many different sorts of music fans. It was the country music singer Luke Combs singing with singer and songwriter Tracy Chapman.

Together, they sang "Fast Car," a song that had helped Chapman win a Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. You can listen to the song on the Grammys website.

The song won the Country Music Association Awards prize for Country Song of the Year in 2023. Chapman is the first Black songwriter to win this award. Luke Combs recorded the song in 2023. He invited Chapman to sing it with him at the Grammy awards show in February.

The American Dream

In today's lesson, we will look at some of the words in the song and explore how they tell the story of two people. The two tried to find the American Dream: good jobs, a nice home, and children.

We will especially learn about the meanings of some indefinite pronouns and how they can be used to make contrasts.

In the beginning of the song, Chapman sings about going someplace in a fast car:

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Anyplace is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we'll make something
But me myself I got nothing to prove

Somewhere and anywhere

In this part, we hear pairs of contrasting words. The first pair is "anywhere" and "somewhere." She says she wants a "ticket to anywhere," which means there is no exact place she wants to go. A similar word appears in the line, "Anyplace is better." Then, she says that together, she and her friend with the fast car "can get somewhere." "To get somewhere" means to succeed or reach a goal.

Nothing and something

The next pair of contrasting words is "nothing" and "something." The first expression is that she has "nothing to lose." That means she will not suffer if what she tries to do fails. Again, speaking of what the young couple can do together, she sings, "Maybe we'll make something." When we use "something" as an indefinite pronoun, it can mean a thing that is quite good, as in the expression:

That's really something!

Moving on to the next part of the song, we find the singer is working at a low-paying job and wants to escape.

You got a fast car
And I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won't have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living

Dreams and reality

Tracy Chapman has said she wrote the song about the lives of her parents. As a young couple, they struggled to create the kinds of lives they dreamed of. Listen for the words in the next part that contrast their dream with the reality of living in a shelter – a place for people without a home in which to live:

I know things will get better
You'll find work and I'll get promoted
We'll move out of the shelter
Buy a big house and live in the suburbs

Finally, we learn through Chapman's song that the young woman did not finish her education because she stayed home to take care of her sick father. The couple seems to continue to struggle in the last part of the song, but they have good memories of their younger years. Listen for the indefinite pronoun "someone" here. To "be someone" means to be an important person.

I remember we were driving driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

Listening to Tracy Chapman's song, we find that indefinite pronouns can help express two ideas related to the American Dream: to "make something" and to "be someone."

How do you express your own dreams for the future? Email us at learningenglish@voanews.com or write to us in the comments.

And that's Everyday Grammar.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

Official Music video for Tracy Chapman - "Fast Car" from 'Tracy Chapman' (1988)


Words in This Story

indefiniteadj. (grammar) not limiting or specifying; not referring to a specific or previously identified person or thing

pair –n. two of something

couple – n. two people who are married, living together, or in a romantic relationship

convenience (store)n. a small market with a limited choice of foods and everyday items