Grammar and Gossip

04:32 November 10, 2022

Grammar and Gossip

Imagine a time when you heard information about the personal life or behavior of another person – a friend, a neighbor, a classmate, or even a famous person.

In other words, you heard gossip.

What kinds of terms and structures do English speakers commonly use to gossip? Let’s start with a few important terms and definitions.

Definitions, verbs

Gossip is information about the personal lives and behavior of other people. The information can be either correct or incorrect.

While many people have a bad opinion of gossip (at least when they are the subject of it), the reality is that most people join in it from time to time.

English speakers commonly use a few verbs when gossiping. These verbs often connect with the senses such as hearing and seeing.

For example:

I heard that Tom got into trouble. Sally said she saw the police arrest him!

In the example, we have the past forms heard and saw. Note that the speaker is telling information about Tom’s life and possible behavior. The speaker did not actually experience the events.

In our example, the speaker reported something. This is a general way that gossip spreads: one person says or tells something to another person. As a result, verbs that describe speaking – such as tell or say – are commonly used in gossip. Consider these examples:

Sally told me about Tom’s troubles.

Sally said Tom has been getting into trouble.

Helping verbs, yes/no questions

Gossip often makes up part of a larger discussion. As a result, speakers often bring up the subject of gossip by asking a question. The helping verbs do and have play an especially important part in these questions. This is because these helping verbs are used to create yes or no questions.

Let’s explore one common structure:

do or have + subject + main verb + the rest of the sentence.

For example:

Did you hear about Tom?

Have you heard about what Tom did?

Note that the main verb in both of these examples is hear (or heard). Although the verb’s exact meaning connects with the ear or the sense of hearing, it often also has a broader meaning. In other words, it can also mean to be aware of something.

For example, a person might say they “heard about a scandal” even if they learned of the scandal by reading about it in a newspaper or on the internet.


Let’s take some time to work on these ideas. Use the verb hear to talk about a famous actor's divorce.

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here is one possible answer:

I heard about the actor’s divorce.

Now form a question about a person named Sally. Be sure to use helping verbs such as do or have.

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here are two possible answers:

Did you hear about Sally?

Have you heard about Sally?

Closing thoughts

The goal of today’s report was not to make you want to gossip. Rather, the goal was to get you thinking about how grammar connects with a common subject of discussion.

The next time you listen to English speakers – perhaps in a movie or show – pay careful attention to how they share information. And if you notice questions such as “Did you hear about....?” or “Have you heard about....?” then you might want to prepare yourself to listen to some gossip.

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


gossip – n. information about the behavior and personal lives of other people

scandal – n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

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