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Grammar and Scary Movies

Grammar and Scary Movies
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Halloween is this weekend. A holiday with ancient beginnings, the yearly celebration now looks much different than it did in the distant past. For example, many Americans now celebrate the holiday by watching scary movies or scary shows at home.

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will explore some famous words from Scream, a scary movie. You will learn about questions, auxiliary verbs and pronunciation.


In the 1996 film, a killer calls a woman who is alone in her house. The killer wants to scare her.

He asks the following question:

Do you like scary movies?

This is what you might call a yes or no question. It is asking for either a yes or a no answer.

Note that the general structure is this:

Auxiliary verb + subject + main verb + rest of the sentence.

In our example, do is the auxiliary verb, you is the subject, like is the main verb and the words scary movies make up the rest of the sentence.

Do you like scary movies?

Note that the main verb is in the simple present. The simple present does not necessarily express present time. It also expresses what is generally true.

Grammar and pronunciation

We have explored the line from the movie at the level of grammar. But we can also explore the line as a meeting point between grammar and pronunciation.

Let’s listen again:

Do you like scary movies?

Did you notice that the word do is difficult to hear? That is because Americans often reduce – meaning to say in a softer and shorter way – function words. Function words are words that have a grammatical purpose. These can include pronouns and auxiliary verbs and other words such as articles and prepositions.

On the other hand, Americans often stress content words – words that include verbs, nouns, adjectives and so on. In our example, the words like scary movies are content words.

So, if all of the words were spoken clearly, our question would sound like this:

Do you like scary movies?

But it sounds like this with the reduced function words:

D’you like scary movies?

Some Americans might even reduce the word you even further, and say something like this:

D’ya like scary movies?

Closing thoughts

Today’s report explored one line from a scary movie.

But you can take what you have learned to study any kind of movie or speaking situation. Pay careful attention to yes or no questions. Note the auxiliary verb and the main verb. And then ask yourself which words were stressed or reduced.

With time and careful study, you will master not only English grammar, but also develop a strong understanding of how native speakers produce all kinds of words, statements and questions.

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


Words in This Story

scary – adj. causing fear

auxiliary verb – n. grammar : a verb (such as have, be, may, do, shall, will, can, or must) that is used with another verb to show the verb's tense, to form a question, etc.

pronunciation – n. the way in which a word or name is pronounced; a particular person's way of pronouncing a word or the words of a language

stress – v. to pronounce (a syllable or word) in a louder or more forceful way than other syllables or words

master – v. to get the knowledge and skill that permits you to do, use, or understand (something) very well