I found this sentence:

We went to the movies last night.

at the following URL: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/movies

Why do they use the plural "movies", why not use the singular "movie"?


3 Answers 3


In the very early days, movies were very short (about 10-15 minutes), so people watched several movies in a row. Even when feature films were developed, there was typically a newsreel, a short and the feature.

Also, they were originally called 'moving pictures', which quite naturally became 'movies'. 'A movie' came slightly later. (I think people referred to 'a film' before they referred to 'a movie'.)

  • 5
    Do you have a source for that? Just curious, as it's not the reason given in the Answer in this identical question which uses MacMillan as a source.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 21:34
  • 2
    @BruceWayne From my own knowledge of history and language, I believe this answer to be entirely accurate, but you're right- sources are always appreciated. It should be noted, however, your linked answer essentially says "the dictionary definition is thus" whereas this answer says "the reason the word means this is thus". The two are complimentary, not contradictory. The MacMillian definition for "movie" even references the relation to "moving pictures' though it stops short of claiming it to be a contraction of the phrase.
    – jmbpiano
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 6:12
  • The OED has a citation for "movie" from 1913, which is sufficiently close to the earliest for "movies" (1909) that I'm not sure we can really say that the singular came later. At that time, the word seems to have been always written in quotes, suggesting that it was felt to be a very informal term that might be common in spoken English but was rarely written down, again making it hard to determine the relative age. Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 15:23
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    The first section in particular feels like a meaning added in retrospect. It definitely needs to be referenced if it's being stated as a true factor in the etymology. If no reference can be found, it may be best to move it second and make it clear that it's an interesting additional bit of trivia. There is currently no evidence that it influenced the plurality of the term "Movies".
    – user68033
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 16:07

Because, as that definition explained, "movies" in that context refers to the movie theater, which typically has several showings for a movie. If you want to refer to the showing you specifically attended, you would say "we went to a movie last night."

  • 3
    Could you include a reference for this please?
    – user68033
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 16:11

Do you want to go to the movies tonight?

Do you want to go to the cinema tonight?

Both the movies (AmE) or the cinema (BrE) refer to a place where you can watch a movie (AmE) or a film (BrE). It is usually a movie theater (AmE) or a cinema (BrE).

Would you like to go and see a film tonight?

I thought we might get something to eat and then go to see a movie.

  • 7
    "The cinema" and "a film" are certainly valid in AmE, they're just a bit formal for casual conversation.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 1:15
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    You can also say "the pictures" in BrE although it may sound a bit old-fashioned.
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 12:50
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    @Kevin Ya, this answer is a bit weird in how hard of a distinction it makes between AmE and BrE. AmE speakers use "cinema" too. One of the largest theater chains is called Regal Cinemas. And "film" is extremely common to hear in AmE. It's interchangeable with "movie", although a bit less common. It's not like they call it "movie school".
    – user91988
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 15:07

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