Theater vs. Theatre – What’s the Difference?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

What is the difference between the words theatre and theater? Is it movie theatre or movie theater?

These two words can confuse writers because they don’t always know which word is suitable for particular contexts. Learn the difference between the two spellings with examples in this guide.

Theater vs. Theatre

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Both theater and theatre are nouns with the same definition. But sometimes, in the English language, the context will show a preference for theater or theatre. They can be:

  • A building or outdoor area where dramatic performances, plays, and orchestras are given.
  • The profession of acting, producing, or directing plays.
  • A play or presentation considered based on drama.
  • A hall for lectures.

The two words also have the same pronunciation, which is thee-eh-ter.

The French word theatre came first. Theatre and other words that end in -re shifted to -er in some areas because it was thought to be simpler. Other examples include center and centre and fiber and fibre.

The man behind the linguistic change was Noah Webster. He wanted to produce a literacy curriculum for his nation. He replaced British textbooks with American versions through these tiny spelling changes.

If you’re a writer, you must know your audience and customize your writing according to them.

Theater vs Theatre Ngram
This Ngram shows the use of theater vs. theatre in American spelling. It reveals that theatre remains more widely used than theater.

When to Use Theater

Use theater if your audience speaks American English. This spelling is also more popular on the internet. For example:

  • I went to the theater with my friends.
  • There are two theaters in our town.
  • Will movie theaters soon be replaced by something else?

When to Use Theatre

Use theatre when your audience uses British English. It’s also the preferred spelling in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and South Africa. For example:

  • It was David’s first time entering a theatre.
  • This organization is the most famous theatre company in the city.
  • She’s a huge fan of theatre.

Exceptions to the Rule

If the word theater or theatre appears in a proper noun, these rules should not apply. For example, we still say Ford’s Theatre even if it’s located in Washington, DC. We also say Broadway Theater District instead of Broadway Theatre District.

Is It Movie Theatre or Movie Theater?

Both movie theatre and movie theater are correct. Use movie theatre or pictures if your audience is British, Canadian, or Australian. Use movie theater or cinema if your audience is American.

Is It Theater or Theatre in AP Style?

The AP Stylebook both list theater and theatre as the preferred spelling. But theater is more common in the USA.

Examples of Theater in Sentences

  • We’re going to the movie theater this weekend.
  • I used to love writing plays and was really big in the theater scene during my teens.
  • I miss the old stadium theater we used to have in my small town.
  • I appreciate the art of theater.
  • My small town used to have a single-screen movie theater, but it eventually went out of business, so now we have to drive over two hours to see a movie.
  • I love going to the theater to watch my daughter do ballet.
  • But the recent takeover of the theater’s lease by Another Planet Entertainment—which operates and programs a handful of mostly music-oriented venues and festivals around the San Francisco Bay Area—has led to a struggle for the theater’s future. (NPR)

Examples of Theatre in Sentences

  • I’m starting a theatre company.
  • The old Fogo Island theatre company is still standing strong.
  • From Mandala Theatre Company, MAD(E) (14th – 18th March) is an epic story of life, death, and everything in between. (Broadway World)
  • Hampstead theatre, which has nurtured emerging playwrights including Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh and Hanif Kureishi over its 60-year history, is set to “change direction” after the Arts Council cut its funding to zero last month. (The Guardian)

The Debate Over Theater vs. Theatre

I hope this post has addressed your questions about theater vs. theatre. Both words are correct spellings, but we use theater as an American variant and theatre as a British variant.

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