Grammar and the Economy: Prices

01 June 2023

Consider a time that you discussed prices. Perhaps it was at a market, at a store, or with friends.

How did you discuss the issue?

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will explore a point of connection between grammar and the economy. You will learn how to talk about prices in everyday situations. We will pay careful attention to questions about prices.

Everyday Grammar
Everyday Grammar


Let's start our lesson by comparing some of our important terms to a movie. We will call it Price Questions.

The star of our film is the structure "how much." "How much" almost always appears in questions about prices – just as a main actor appears in almost every scene of a movie.

If "how much" is our star, then the verb "cost" is probably the most important supporting actor. "Cost" appears in all kinds of questions.

But sometimes "cost" is left out of sentences – in the same way that a director might leave out other actors from a scene in a film.

So, we have "how much" and "cost." But our sentence or film needs a few more extras, like background performers in a scene.

These include pronouns or demonstratives such as "it," "this," and "that," as well as the helping verb "do." These words are important – just as background actors are – but you may not really notice them as much.

Now that we have introduced the crew of our film, let's see some action.


Remember our old friend "how much," the star of the show? "How much" plays a central part in questions about prices.

For example, you might hear a person ask:

How much does this cost?

"How much" sets the scene for what is to come, in the same way that a main actor might enter the scene first in a film. Then, of course, we have some background actors, the helping verb "do," followed by the subject "this." And finally, we have our supporting actor, the main verb "cost."

The general order of appearance is this:

How much + helping verb + subject + main verb

In some cases, we leave out the helping verb "do." Instead, we simply use the verb BE. You can think of BE acting as the stunt double for "do." For example, you might hear a person ask:

How much is this?


How much is it?

Once again, "how much" enters the scene first, and this time our main supporting actor, "cost," does not appear. But we have the background actors BE and "it."


We have explored price discussions in their present form. But what happens if we want to talk about the past?

We can still use the same structures, but there are small changes.

So, our question "How much does this cost?" becomes this:

How much did this cost?

Our question "How much is it?" becomes this:

How much was it?

These changes are much like an actor wearing a different costume or clothing. The actor is the same, but his or her appearance changes.

In the same way, we might say that verbs wear different kinds of clothing in their present or past forms.


Let's take some time to work with these ideas.

Ask about the price of a cell phone. Use the present form of the verb "cost."

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here is one possible answer:

How much does this cell phone cost?

Now imagine a friend showing you a cell phone that he or she recently purchased. Ask about the price by using a past form of BE.

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here is one possible answer:

How much was this cell phone?

Closing thoughts

Today we explored a few ways to ask questions about prices. We used the idea of a film to learn about our subject.

In future lessons, we will explore the grammar behind all kinds of everyday issues – prices, the economy, friendship, technology, and more.

I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

scene – n. a division of an act in a play during which the action takes place in a single place without a break in time

background -- n. a position that attracts little attention; the part of a scene or picture that is farthest from the viewer

stunt -- n. a difficult and often dangerous action