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want it that way

I need you help explain this structure to me: “prefer/want it that way”. I have heard it the first time in the song “I want it that way” of Backstreet Boys. But I think the complete sentence could be: “I want it in that way”, is it right? Is “in” left out in this sentence? Thank you in advance.

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The chorus of the song goes:

"Don't wanna hear you say
Ain't nothin' but a heartache
Ain't nothin' but a mistake
(Don't wanna hear you say)
I never wanna hear you say
I want it that way"

They explicitly say that it's a mistake. The Backstreet Boys don't want this person to say "I want it that way" because it's a grammatical error.

Sylvia April 11, 2011, 6:01am

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The line 'I want it that way' or a variation of it occurs throughout the song, not just in the chorus. Look at the first verse:

You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way

So it seems to be OK when the singer says it. I think it's the other person (not the singer) who is talking of a mistake, and that that mistake is their relationship. It has nothing at all to do with grammar (which would be a strange subject for a love song).

'I want it that way' simply means - That's how I want it, that's how I like it. And I can't for the life of me see how it's in any way grammatically incorrect.

Warsaw Will April 11, 2011, 7:03am

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Yeah, "I want it IN that way" would imply something other meaning, it's so alien to the American English idiom. (I refuse to speak for other English-speaking countries.)

scyllacat April 11, 2011, 9:40am

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Hi scyllacat,

What would "I want it IN that way" imply? Is "prefer it that way" the same as "want it that way", isn't it?

Thảo April 12, 2011, 10:13pm

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I think it could be safely said that the rules of spoken and written grammar are only loosely applied to lyrics and poetry, often in favor of common or colloquial phrasing, accentual verse or rhyme.

I believe the word "in" was dropped from the line in order meet the already common phrasing, but it could also have been dropped to comply with the rules of accentual-syllabic verse, allowing for five syllables with a major stress on the fourth (the word "that"). Otherwise, the lyrics to yet another somewhat older song should have been, "That's the way (uh huh, uh huh) [in which] I like it!"

On the question of implication, I agree that if the word, "in," was included in the phrase of these lyrics, it could have been assumed to be an implied euphemism referring to a sexual act and the insertion of something into or inside of another, but I don't believe that was the intent of its absence.

Alas, I believe that the word, "in," was dropped from the common use of the phrase a long time ago, although it remained in meaning and has been used a little more frequently in the questioning form ("Is that the way in which you like it?"), though even there, it is now more often dropped in favor of, "Is that the way you like it?"

Likewise, I believe that although it is more proper to use the word, "in," whether the phrase includes either "want" or "prefer," its non-use is more a matter of common or colloquial preference. Nothing more.

Uncle Bob April 13, 2011, 4:57pm

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"I want it that way" is perfectly good English (British or American). If it is a contraction at all, it is a contraction of "I want it to be that way," but that would be overemphatic in most contexts. People seem to be making up problems here where there are none. In most contexts "I want it in that way" is awkward and unidiomatic, although you might say something like "I want it done in that way" if that was your intended meaning. In most cases, putting an "in" in would just be wrong.

njtt April 16, 2011, 11:51pm

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Well articulated njtt! There is no problem whatsoever with "I want it that way"; I like it that way", or "I prefer it that way"... these phrases mean different things, and as said by njtt above - adding an "in" would change the meaning completely.

Vince June 13, 2011, 2:11pm

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Rather than it being a question of grammatical precision vs. colloquialism, or even of style, I think including or omitting the “in” is a matter of nuance. It seems to me, leaving it out of this construction expresses things in general or a basic state of affairs, but using “in” would mean to want a specific task done in a particular way (leading to the double entendre!)
If one uses “in” with “way,” it begs the question, why that way? It shifts the emphasis in the sentence to the verb. “She did it that way, [not I].” “She did it in that way [because it was easier].”
In any case, “want” or “prefer” are not driving the use of the word “in,” “way” is.
You do it your way, I’ll do it mine. Sinatra did it his way.

Regina grammaticae July 14, 2011, 7:43am

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The lyric is indeed correct as it stands. I suggest that the proper expansion is most likely this: "I want it to be that way."

BrockawayBaby August 27, 2011, 8:54pm

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I think it's fine. Think about it like this:

"Why is this flower tilted at a strange angle in your vase?"

"Because I want it that way."

Jenni September 9, 2011, 9:10am

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