With or Without You


3 steps to improve your English with music:


Listen to the song
Enjoy listening to the music using the video below. Make a mental note of any interesting words or parts, but don't worry if you can't understand yet. No video? Watch on YouTube.


Play the explanation
Grab a hot drink and relax. I'll explain each line of the song for you. Use the explanations to understand the song lyrics, but don't worry about knowing every word that I use to explain. For an extra challenge listen without the transcript.


[Clickable Transcript]

Hello everyone! Welcome to Explained in English. My name is Kiah and today I'm explaining the song With or Without You by U2.

U2 is a band that is very well known today, but they really started having massive success in the 1980s. This song, With or Without You, is one of their most well known songs of all time. The lyrics describe how it feels to be in a troubled relationship. A relationship where no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to make it work. If you don't know this song or if it's been awhile since you've heard it, I highly recommend listening to the song before this explanation. You can listen to the music and read along with a transcript of this explanation for free at explainedinenglish.com. I also put a direct link in this episode's shownotes. Alright, let's get into the lyrics. The first verse begins with the line:


[Verse 1]
See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait -- without you

With or without you
With or without you

[Verse 2]
Through the storm we reach the shore
You gave it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you

[Chorus 2]
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live with or without you

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give, and you give
And you give yourself away

[Verse 3]
My hands are tied my body bruised
She's got me with nothing to win and nothing left to lose

One of the things that I find very interesting in this song are the second person pronouns, which if you're not into grammar, that means the words "you" and "your". I like his use of these words because they leave a little bit of room for interpretation. For example, in the first verse where it says "see the stone set in your eyes, see the thorn twist in your side", he's probably talking about his partner, but he could also be refering to himself. Imagine, for example, him looking into the mirror and seeing himself. That is, looking at his own eyes and seeing how they are lifeless like a stone. Or, noticing his own pain like the thorn twisted in his side. It may be a stretch but even where he says "and I wait for you". Is he waiting for her or is he waiting for himself to come back?

However, the most ambiguous or the most uncertain use of this "you" is in the bridge, where he says, "and you give yourself away". I always felt that "you" here was refering to the guy or himself -- like he gives so much of his time and his energy in this relationship. However, my wife was saying she always interpreted the line as in the other person gives themselves away. Using this interepretation, it's as if he's telling this girl, "you give yourself away very cheaply, very freely to people who don't even care about you as much as I do". It's like he's waiting for her to realize that he loves her more, and so he's waiting. I would be very very curious to know what you think. Which way do you interpret these lyrics?

Another possible interpreation for this song is that some very difficult or traumatic event happened. That's like the twist of fate or the storm that they had to go through. But this event had a very terrible effect on the girl, and perhaps she's a little depressed; she's feeling a little lifeless -- with a stone look in her eye and still hurting with this thorn in her side. And her partner is trying to support her, but also needs support himself. He's waiting for his partner to come back. He has tried everything he could, but doesn't know what else to do and doesn't know what else he can give. So, he's waiting in this kind of limbo, neither happy with or without the person. Whatever the words mean to you, I think we can agree that both the lyrics and the music are pretty darn good.

This is actually the first 80s song that I'm explaining on the podcast. However, I'm working on the "Discover the 1980s" album for Explained in English. If you have a favorite 80s song or artist that you'd like to see on that album, let me know in an email or comment. Thanks for spending this time with me today. I will see you all in the next explanation. Bye bye!



You just learned a great song and can listen over and over to improve your English. Play the song again now and see how much more you understand.

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