If you’re an English grammar aficionado – and even if you’re not – brace yourself, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Actually, I think you should sit down for this; I’m going to break it to you in stages. You’re already sitting down? OK, you might want to clench your buttocks or squeeze an executive stress toy. Are you ready? Here we go:
Everything you know about the present continuous is wrong.
That’s the first part. I’m afraid it gets worse:
All English grammar books are going to have to be pulped and rewritten.
I don’t know about you but I’m starting to hyperventilate … Now for the final blow:
It’s all Justin Timberlake’s fault.
Yes, Justin ‘it was a wardrobe malfunction’ Trousersnake, one time squeeze of La Spears and ex-Out-of-Sync boy band botherer is single-handedly responsible for shifting the tectonic plates of the present continuous, as well as shifting a fair few burgers.
Why? Well, cast your mind back to Christmas 2003 when McDonald’s chose Timberlake’s street-language-infused ditty I’m Lovin’ It as the song and slogan for their latest global advertising campaign. Warning – this clip might make you cringe!
Why is this embarrassing drivel significant? Well, any English language professional worth their salty fries knows that you can’t, you just cannot use stative verbs in the present continuous. It’s, like, against the law. You want proof? May I refer you to the bible of English language teachers everywhere, Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (Section 445, sub-section 8, p. 462) which clearly states that the sentence I’m liking this wine is wrong, an error, no can say. Ergo I’m lovin’ this revolting mess hastily assembled in something masquerading as a sesame bap is also erroneous, in more ways than one. And hey, while we’re at it, Raymond Murphy’s Essential Grammar in Use (that’s Unit 8, section D, p. 24, grammar fans) is pretty categorical too:
We do not use these verbs in the present continuous: like, love, want, know, understand, remember, depend, prefer, hate, need, mean, believe, forget …
Alright Raymond, calm down, love! You see, English teachers the world over all thought they knew where they stood with stative verbs and the present continuous. The two could not peaceably co-exist. Received wisdom has always been that verbs that describe mental and emotional states are non-progressive i.e. you can’t stick –ing on the end of them without sounding like a foreign exchange student in an anorak and bobble hat asking passers-by on Westminster Bridge: Hallo! I’m needing to know the way to Big Ben. Are you knowing this?
Of course, it’s too late, the damage has been done. It’s been nearly six years since Mr Trousersnake and his accomplice Ronald McDonald rode roughshod over decades of cast-iron grammatical certainty, not to mention showing a woeful disregard for the mental health of Raymond Murphy.
The expression (I’m) lovin’ it, along with its cousins I’m likin’ it and I’m feelin’ it have now calcified within the English language, although I’m understandin’ it and I’m knowin’ it haven’t really caught on, have they?
So what do we think? Can anyone in their right mind say I’m lovin’ it without following it up with ‘ba, da, ba, ba ba!’ and thinking of Timbers making sweet love to a beautiful laydee on a bed of dollar bills and cheeseburger wrappers? Do you find yourself saying lovin’ it to your friends and colleagues, instead of the patently old-fashioned love it? What’s the verdict – I’m lovin’ it – acceptable or naff?