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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

The "Grammar" of Film and Television

Grammar provides us with the knowledge and understanding to analyse and describe how both written and oral language work. Similarly, by knowing the "grammar" of film, we can explore, identify, learn about, describe, and use features of visual language that create particular meanings and effects in moving images in film and television.

Film is not a language in exactly the same way that English is a language. In a movie, there is nothing that corresponds precisely to a word, for instance, or a question. Nor is the order of events in a film the same, or as strictly regulated, as the order of words in a grammatical sentence. However, it is possible and sometimes helpful to argue that written language and film are similar in the following ways.

Letters are the smallest distinct forms of written language.   A film's smallest unit is a frame, which is like a still photograph.
Letters make up words in written language.   Several frames make up shots in films.
Words make up sentences in written language.   Shots make up scenes.
Sentences make up paragraphs in written language.   Scenes make up sequences.
Paragraphs make up stories.   Sequences make up a film.

The nature and length of sequences in television programmes are often different from those in feature films because they are segmented for ad breaks.

Writing is often made more interesting and suitable for its purpose by using a variety of letter forms, words, sentence and paragraph lengths, and structures. Similarly, variety in the use of frames, shots, scenes, and sequences usually results in a more interesting and appealing film.

Summary of Terms

filmic terms shots sequences
frame scenes segmented

Exploring language content page

Published on: 06 May 2009




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