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Why do we use Do you ever go to the movies? and not Do you ever go to a movie? Is the latter also correct?

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Someone else may know, but I expect all you'll get is people saying what they say. The singular is perfectly grammatical, but most people just don't say it. Also note that with "Do you ever watch movies", we never include "the". That's because "the movies" is a set idiomatic phrase that really means the place where films are shown, rather than the films themselves. Note that no-one talks of "going to the films", but they do talk of "watching films". –  FumbleFingers Mar 17 '12 at 3:24
    
Wait... People watch only one at a time? :p –  Manishearth Mar 17 '12 at 14:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Per the Macmillan Dictionary, the movies refers specifically to "movies as a form of entertainment," or, secondarily, "the industry involved in making movies."

(In the British version of Macmillan, the movies refers to "the cinema or the film industry.")

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When you ask a general question about habitual behaviour (however frequent or infrequent that may be), you use the indefinite term "the movies" because you're asking about any movie. If you used "a movie" instead, you'd be asking about going to a particular movie, which doesn't make as much sense in conjunction with behaviour (unless maybe you're referring to a particularly long-running movie).

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-1 As a general question, Do you ever go to a movie? is not asking about a particular movie. –  pazzo Feb 10 at 2:18

When movies were first produced, they were called the "Moving pictures" because up until then there were only "still" pictures. As languages change and idioms and slang are born, just as when one was able to buy loose cigarettes that were called "a loosy" or "loosies", the "moving pictures" became "the movies". Moving pictures later became Motion Pictures which today is still used in the industry, but not generally by the public. Thought it is grammatically correct to say "Let's go watch a motion picture," the expression did not catch on and, therefore, it just doesn't sound right. No short version was ever made out of that one.

Film refers more so to the media than the pictures themselves, thus, "watching a film" means that one will watch all that is on that one roll of pictures. For those of you who aren't old enough, before the digital era in which we live today, still picture cameras also had a roll of film instead of SD cards. We couldn't really look at the pictures from a roll of film that came out of a still camera, mainly because they were in "negative" form. The only machine one could use to look at "negatives" were the slide machines, which were projectors. Can you imagine having to use a projector in order to show your vacation or party pictures to family and friends? What a drag! They needed to be printed on paper in order to be easily and readily appreciated anywhere.

Then there also the Polaroid cameras, which took what was called Polaroid pictures. But that is another story, maybe for another day.

Cheers.

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Where can I read more about this? Can you cite sources that back up your explanation? –  pazzo Feb 10 at 2:20

I think it's because you are going to a place. Yes, you are going to watch a movie but movie theaters have more than one movie showing. The place you are going to has 'movies' plural. I'm going to watch a movie. I'm going to the movies. The reason why people tend not to say they are going to the films is because of the connotation that the word film has attained over time. Film has become attributed more with film festivals. Films are viewed as more creative, high-brow, and independent. The term movie on the other hand is more mainstream. Movie theatres are known to show 'movies' and not 'films.'

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We also say "go to the cinemas" rather than "go to the cinema"... I wonder why. –  curiousdannii Jul 24 '14 at 4:36
    
Where do you use that turn of phrase, @curiousdannii? –  Matt E. Эллен Jul 24 '14 at 12:06
    
@Ann I disagree with your etymology of going to the movies –  Matt E. Эллен Jul 24 '14 at 12:07
    
@MattЭллен I'm pretty sure I've heard it in Australia, though go to the movies is more common. I was just highlighting that it's the plural in both. –  curiousdannii Jul 25 '14 at 1:24

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