Grammar, Language in 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'

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21 December 2023

Many Americans will travel over the winter holidays, often to return to the homes and towns of their childhood. For people from the state of West Virginia, and wider Appalachia, one song comes to mind on the trip home: Take Me Home, Country Roads. Singer John Denver co-wrote and performed the 1971 song. It became a major hit.

Recently, my favorite singer, Lana Del Rey, recorded her version of the song after performing in West Virginia in October.

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will look at parts of the song performed by Del Rey and connect it to grammar and figurative language.

Let's look at the first verse of the song.

Metaphors, appositives, and comparative adjectives

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze

In the first verse we have a couple of comparisons. One comparison uses an appositive as metaphor. The others use comparative adjectives and even a simile.

Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that go beside another noun to describe it. Sometimes we can use the appositive structure to create a metaphor.

"Almost Heaven, West Virginia" is a metaphor using an appositive. Here, our subject is "West Virginia" and the appositive is "Almost Heaven." The appositive is giving more information about "West Virginia." The comma takes the place of the typical verb used to make metaphors, "be."

West Virginia is almost Heaven.

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

"Heaven" is a perfect place. Many cultures and traditions uphold it as a beautiful, holy place people go when they die.

So, if West Virginia is "almost heaven," its natural landscape of mountains and rivers and trees must be a holy place of beauty.

Next, we have a comparison of "life" in West Virginia. It is "older than the trees" and "younger than the mountains." "Older" and "younger" are comparative adjectives.

Comparative adjectives compare one thing to another. They help express whether something has more or less of a particular quality.

The song suggests the ancient history of the land. Scientists say the mountains began to develop about a billion years ago. Life began sometime after that but before the growth of trees, the song goes.

And the mountains and life continue into the future, the song then suggests. The writers used the simile, "growing like a breeze," to express this idea.

A simile is a figure of speech in which unlike things are compared with the use of the words "like" or "as."

Breezes come and go and sometimes grow into a stronger wind. This verse could mean that life and land grow with ease in West Virginia.

Let's move onto the chorus of the song.

Imperatives and personification

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

In the chorus of the song, we have an interesting grammatical feature and some figurative language.

We have an imperative structure that is repeated in the beginning and end of the chorus:

Country roads, take me home

Take me home, country roads

Imperatives are predicate-only clauses used to give instruction, direction or command. Imperative sentences use the base form of the verb and may have other information.

We know that this song was written about a road trip through the mountains and rural communities. The singer seeks direction from the "country roads," themselves, to find the way home.

We also have more figurative language. The writers refer to West Virginia as "mountain mama." This is an example of personification or the human representation of a non-living thing.

The reference humanizes West Virginia and suggests that it is the mother of mountains. But, it uses the more childlike term, "mama" for mother. The word expresses hominess, warmth and nostalgia.

Final thoughts

Today we looked at the beloved song Country Roads. We found figurative language like metaphors using appositives and personification, which is the humanizing of non-living things.

We even found some interesting grammar with the use of comparative adjectives like "younger" and "older" to describe life in West Virginia and imperatives or commands to give direction through the "country roads."

I'm Faith Pirlo.

And I'm Anna Mateo. And we're both from West Virginia.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

figurative adj. used with a meaning that is different from the basic meaning

verse - n. writing in which words are arranged in a rhythmic pattern: poetry or song

breeze – n. a gentle wind

metaphor n. a way of describing something by comparing it with something else that has some of the same qualities using the verb "be"

similen. an indirect comparison using "like" or "as"

particularadj. used when you want to talk about one thing or a certain kind of thing rather than ones that are similar

chorus – n. part of a song that is repeated; a large organized group of singers