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". Mar 17, 2012 at 3:24
  • Wait... People watch only one at a time? :p Mar 17, 2012 at 14:06
  • Yes the latter is also correct.
    – pazzo
    May 27, 2015 at 10:06
  • I haven't researched this, but I believe that when the term was coined a single visit to a cinema would mean watching at least two 'movies': a main feature, perhaps a newsreel, and a 'B movie'.
    – JHCL
    Sep 13, 2015 at 11:29

6 Answers 6


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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    -1 You do not answer the question. You don't consider ... a movie? at all.
    – pazzo
    May 27, 2015 at 10:02

"Movies" is short for "moving pictures". Since "moving pictures" was plural, its short form was naturally also plural.

In the early days of its use, moving pictures was commonly used in plural form to refer to a single film; for example, the OED has:

1897 Sketch 13 Oct. One guinea and half-a-guinea are being asked for stalls to see the moving pictures of the Corbett–Fitzsimmons fight at the Empress Theatre.


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.


  • Where can I read more about this? Can you cite sources that back up your explanation?
    – pazzo
    Feb 10, 2015 at 2:20

Drive-in theaters show more than one movie. There may be a short cartoon for the kiddies, movie #1, an intermission and then movie #2. enter image description here

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    Not all the movie-goers go to a drive-in theater to watch a movie. I don't think your post answers the question.
    – user140086
    Jun 5, 2016 at 15:55

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, 2015 at 2:18
  • @pazzo: if you'd read my answer, you might've noticed that I said it doesn't make much sense to word the question that way. One part ("do you ever") asks about habitual behaviour, the other makes it sound like you're talking about something specific. My point was that the indefinite part doesn't mix well with the definite part. May 27, 2015 at 9:50
  • -1: Do you say "let's go to a park" or "let's go to the parks". In fact, is there any other word where you'd say "let's go to the <.....>s" when you were thinking about going to just one <.....>? Sep 5, 2015 at 11:53
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    @PeterShor: Neither, and I fail to see the relevance of your analogy, unless "the parks" has some meaning I'm not aware of...? As Gnawme's answer states, "the movies" has meaning beyond just being the plural of "movie". Sep 5, 2015 at 12:02

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.'

  • We also say "go to the cinemas" rather than "go to the cinema"... I wonder why. Jul 24, 2014 at 4:36
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    Where do you use that turn of phrase, @curiousdannii? Jul 24, 2014 at 12:06
  • @Ann I disagree with your etymology of going to the movies Jul 24, 2014 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. Jul 25, 2014 at 1:24

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