The Pet Shop Boys are a British pop-duo best known for their 80’s monster hit song “West End Girls.” The band is apparently the most successful duo in UK music history and one of their best songs is a catchy tune called “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” This article will briefly examine the grammatical structure of a famous line in the song.

“What Have I Done To Deserve This?” actually has two sentences (and as we will see, three sentences) that make the song memorable and are repeated multiple times. As a matter of fact, the lines are repeated so often that one might think it would ruin the arrangement of the song altogether. But surprisingly, this doesn’t happen. The song is enjoyable from beginning to end. Anyway, those two sentences are:

“What have I done to deserve this?” (the song’s title)
and
“How am I going to get through?”

Here is where things get interesting (and a bit tricky, so stay with me). A casual hearing of the song will cause the listener to assume that the question “How am I going to get through?” remains grammatically consistent throughout the song. But this is not the case. The Pet Shop Boys deliver a brilliant syntaxical construction during the portion of the song where a female vocalist – performed beautifully by pop legend Dusty Springfield – seems to sing the line exactly as it is sung in the first verse. Allow me to demonstrate below:

Verse 1 (sung by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe)
You always wanted a lover
I only wanted a job
I’ve always worked for my living
How am I going to get through?
How am I going to get through?

Bridge (sung by Dusty Springfield)
Since you went away I’ve been hanging around
I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
You went away, it should make me feel better
But I don’t know, oh
How I’m going to get through.
How I’m going to get through.

Hopefully, after looking at the two lines written in black and white, the differences between them are obvious. In verse 1 (and every time Neil and Chris sing the line in the song), the line is phrased in the form of a question and the blending of the word “how” and the word “am” seems to form a kind of contraction – almost like they are saying, “How’m I going to get through?” But when Dusty sings the line in the bridge, it is actually a bit different. This time there is a legitimate contraction – “I’m” – and she is not asking a question so much as she is making a statement. In fact, the line “how I’m going to get through” during Dusty’s part is not the entire sentence, but rather it is the final phrasing of a sentence – the full sentence is “I don’t know how I’m going to get through.”

This distinction is rarely noticed by the listener, as we assume Dusty is simply repeating the question asked by Neil and Chris earlier and throughout the song. And, of course, the name of the song is in the form of a question! An additional reason for the confusion is the presence of a brief delay in between the time when Dusty says “I don’t know” and when she says, “how I’m going to get through.” The delay is long enough to make the listener assume that since the phrase begins with the word “how” then it is in the form of a question. It isn’t until one recognizes that the word “how” comes in the middle of the sentence and not the beginning that the statement begins to be understood as it was intended. A final reason for the confusion stems from the strange contraction-like blending of the words “how” and “am” during Neil and Chris’ singing. The words “how’m” and “I’m” sound so similar that it creates an assumption of their identical nature.

This is simply brilliant. Neil and Chris wrote the song and could have easily kept the phrase in the form of a question and thus uniform through the duration of the song. But instead they decided to use the same basic phrasing but change the emphasis ever so slightly during the Dusty Springfield portion.

And that, my dear friends, are the kinds of things that give life an extra little spark of joy from time to time.