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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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I'm guessing it dates back to the old days, when motion pictures first came out. Instead of saying: "Let's go to the theater where they show those new-fangled motion pictures."

Folks would say, for short: "Let's go to the pictures."

Eventually 'movies' became more commonly used, so the phrase became: "Let's go to the movies."

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I thought about "the pictures" (also "the flicks" in my UK youth). It rather begs the question why those, and "the movies", became established, but the most obvious one - "the films" - never had any currency. And there seems to be no equivalent in other spheres - no "the plays", "the gigs", "the concerts", etc. –  FumbleFingers Mar 17 '12 at 17:06
    
Good point. I have no idea why. –  Lynn Mar 17 '12 at 18:25
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Time was when you bought a ticket to see a newsreel, a comic short, and then the main feature; i.e several movies in one programme. –  TimLymington Jan 15 at 19:05

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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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 at 4:36
    
Where do you use that turn of phrase, @curiousdannii? –  Matt Эллен Jul 24 at 12:06
    
@Ann I disagree with your etymology of going to the movies –  Matt Эллен Jul 24 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 at 1:24

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