“It was a dark and stormy night…”
Are you ready to get scared?
There are many different ghost stories, urban legends and horror tales in the English language.
Some have monsters and blood. Some have floating ghosts. Some are just about the darkness inside people. All are scary and fun to read!
If you’re a lover of a good scary story, you can use this love to help you learn English better and quicker. Reading is an excellent way to learn English better, so why not learn and get spooked (scared) at the same time?
Why Do We Love Ghost Stories?
Ghosts, ghouls, monsters and all sorts of supernatural beings have fascinated humans for many years. There have been countless horror stories written, or just told around a campfire to excite and scare. But why do we love scary stories so much?
Famous author Neil Gaiman puts it perfectly on Brain Pickings: “Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses.”
There is something comforting about knowing that what you’re reading or watching is not actually real. You can experience the physical and mental effects of fear, without being in any actual danger. Reading a ghost story lets you have fun with fear, instead of being afraid or stressed over the real things in your life.
In other words, scary stories are harmless but exciting, and that makes them fun!
How to Learn English from Scary Stories
You can always just read the stories below and enjoy them. But to really learn from them, there are a few tips you should follow.
- Read with a notebook. We know it ruins the effect, but to learn from the story you’re reading, you should read with pen and paper nearby. Use these to write down any words or parts you don’t understand.
- Read things twice. Read once for vocabulary, and a second time for understanding. This is a great way to read books and stories that are a bit higher than your current learning level. If you learn what a word means, you will understand the story better when you read it a second time, and be getting practice with the new words.
- Learn the cultural impact. Many ghost stories use ideas that have been around for a long time, and some have been repeated or rewritten into modern culture—like the jack-o’-lantern from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which you’ll find on the list. Take the time to look up ways in which the stories you read have been reused in culture, or what the stories themselves can tell you about the culture it comes from. For instance, the American idea of a ghost is a bit different from the Chinese. Do you know how? Learning interesting things about the culture of the language you’re studying can help you understand it a lot better.
- Ask questions. You already know that you should ask questions if you don’t understand something. But you should also ask questions to understand better. As you read, ask questions like “What’s going to happen next?” and “What made that story so scary?” Reading and discussing books helps you improve your English for everyday conversation.
- Enjoy what you read. Once you learn enough about the words the story uses, you can get into the actual story. Don’t forget to enjoy what you’re reading!
13 Spooky English Ghost Stories That’ll Keep You Up at Night
Some of the best ghost stories are classics, and many are old. Below is a list of some of our favorite spooky stories in the English language. Some of the older stories might be a challenge, but since many are available to read for free, you can at least give them a try. Enjoy!
1. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Written by: Washington Irving
Skill level: This story is old, so it uses some old language which may be difficult for beginners.
On his way home from a party, a schoolteacher meets with a terrifying headless horseman. This famous story is a favorite on Halloween nights, especially since the head of the horseman is often shown as a jack-o’-lantern (a carved pumpkin face with a light inside). This story has also been turned into a movie.
2. “The Monkey’s Paw”
Written by: W. W. Jacobs
Skill level: Another old story, this one is easier to understand, although you may need to look up some words that are not commonly used anymore.
A man gets a monkey’s paw that will grant him three wishes—but these wishes have terrible consequences (results). More creepy than scary, “The Monkey’s Paw” has been used many times in other stories, movies, TV shows, and many other places. It message is “be careful what you wish for!”
3. “The Diary of Mr. Poynter”
Written by: M. R. James
Skill level: This is an older story, though it’s accessible to intermediate level learners.
This story has given birth to a creepy urban legend that is retold many times: You stroke the head of your dog while your attention is on something else… then suddenly remember you don’t have a dog. M. R. James is a great author of short ghost and horror stories that might not have any blood or violence, but will still make you scared to turn off the lights in the dark.
Get the book of short stories here.
4. “The Tell-tale Heart”
Written by: Edgar Allan Poe
Skill level: Poe’s writings are simple and clear, and should be understandable for early intermediate learners.
A man is haunted by the beating of a dead man’s heart. Edgar Allan Poe is very well known for his horror stories, many of which are about the darkness inside humans and not actual monsters. Horror story lovers should read at least one of his stories!
5. “The Haunting of Hill House”
Written by: Shirley Jackson
Skill level: This is a full book, not a short story. The language is not too difficult but the writing style can be a little tough to get used to.
Four people come to Hill House hoping to get evidence that the house is haunted. But the house is not only haunted, it’s looking for its next victim, and it has chosen one of the four to make its own.
6. “The Shining”
Written by: Stephen King
Skill level: Modern, clear writing makes this a good book for learners of any skill. Watch out for some obscenities (offensive/vulgar words or behaviors).
A man is left in charge of a hotel during winter months when it’s closed, along with his wife and his son. Something is strange about the hotel, though, and it begins to affect the minds of everyone—with some terrible results. Stephen King is a modern master of the horror genre, and this book is a great read even if you’ve watched the classic movie.
Get the book here.
7. “The Screaming Skull”
Written by: F. Marion Crawford
Skill level: The language and writing style can be tough to follow, but Crawford’s writing is varied. So if you don’t like or understand one story, try a different one.
A man finds a skull in his house, which screams every time he tries to remove it. He learns to live with it, until a visitor comes to the house, and even stranger things start to happen. Crawford’s other stories are just as weird and scary.
8. “The Woman in Black”
Written by: Susan Hill
Skill level: Hill loves long sentences, which might be difficult to follow. The writing is not too advanced, though.
A lawyer is sent to handle the affairs of an old house, but the house is more that it seems and hides many secrets and ghosts. You can also watch the movie version of this book, starring Daniel Radcliffe (who played Harry Potter).
Get the book here.
9. “The Bone Key”
Written by: Sarah Monette
Skill level: Clear and simple writing makes this a good choice for any level, though it does contain plenty of vocabulary words.
A stuttering museum archivist wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but for some reason ghosts and ghouls just keep coming to him. In a series of connected short stories, Monette creates a strange world not too far from our own, and a very likeable character.
Get the book here.
10. “The Graveyard Book”
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Skill level: There are some challenging words, but it was written with young adult readers in mind, which means it is good for learners of any level.
A young boy is raised in a graveyard, where ghosts and apparitions are the normal, and the real monsters might just be the living humans. Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller who creates worlds of magic and reality, where something dark is around every corner.
Get the book here.
11. Real Ghost Stories
Written by: Many different people
Skill level: It depends on each story! Browse around and find something for you level.
Some books claim they’re based on real stories. On this website, you can find stories submitted by real people, about real strange things they’ve seen. Some are well written stories, and others are more like conversational blog posts. All are about real events—a great way to get spooked on Halloween night.
Read the stories free here.
12. Two-sentence Horror Stories
Written by: Reddit users
Skill level: The level varies a little, but since there are only two sentences to each story, they are mostly simple and easy to understand.
“What is the best horror story you can come up with in just two sentences?” This is the question someone asked on Reddit, an online commenting and sharing community. Many of the top-rated stories are truly creepy, and manage to create a terrifying story in less than a paragraph.
13. “The Big Book of Ghost Stories”
Written by: Many different authors
Skill level: This collection is so huge, there’s something for everyone here!
If you just can’t make up your mind about which ghost story to read, you can always just get them all! This massive collection of ghost stories has almost 1,000 pages, including classics, old and new stories. There are plenty of creepy, spooky and scary stories for any kind of reader.
Get the book here.
Light a candle and turn out all the lights, because it’s time for some spooky reading!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning real-world English, you should also check out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.