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Should You Use “Theater” or “Theatre” in Your Writing?

As with most similarly spelled terms, theatre and theater are two ways to refer to the same thing. The only difference between them is the dialects in which they are used. So, let’s get down to the differences between theatre vs. theater, and how you should use them in your writing. 

Theatre vs. Theatre: Is There a Preferred Spelling?

Both of these words act as nouns that refer to a place where theatrical performances happen. With modern advents, this could mean anything ranging from a playhouse to a movie theater. Additionally, theater may also refer to the art form or profession of producing a theatrical act. Regardless, both spellings still act the same. 

The only difference is the spelling, which depends on which dialect of the English language you are using. Thus, the usage of these variants is not different in any sense. 

  • In most settings, theater is the spelling you should use when writing in American English. With that being said, there are some instances where theatre may be used, especially if it is used in the traditional sense. 
  • On the other hand, theatre should mainly be used if you are writing in British English. 

How Did The Word Originate? 

You may also wonder how the word theatre. In its very roots, the word was technically formed from the Latin word Theatrum

Over time, the word eventually took hold in English through old French. After this, it was likely that the word became extremely common as performing and writing plays became popular. 

For instance, the word of Shakespeare and other trailblazing writers iconized the theatre venue for English speakers during the time. 

Even later, it is also likely that American Spellings (such as theater) were adapted from traditional British spellings. 

Who Uses What Dialect?

You may be wondering what countries use which dialects, as that can play an important role in what spelling you use. Generally, the United States is the only country that uses theater. However, it can be found used in Canada. 

British English tends to be more diverse and widespread. For instance, some countries that opt to use British English spellings include: 

  • England 
  • India 
  • Australia 
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa 
  • Greece 

How to Use Theatre in American English 

As mentioned, there are a few instances where the spelling theatre may be used in America. Usually, it has to do with a group wanting to have a stand-out name or to be a ‘classical’ type of theater. 

If the spelling theatre is used in an American setting as a proper noun, you cannot change it. This is because rather than simply acting as a regular noun, it is proper and refers to the name of a specific company or entity. 

Rules Regarding the Spelling of Movie Theater 

Another interesting exception is when you are discussing movie theatres. In most cases, theater is used in American English to describe an establishment that plays movies. There are exceptions, of course, if a movie theatre has titled itself with the other spelling. 

Instead of using the typical British spelling theatre, most movie theaters in Britain are called “cinemas.” 

Example Sentences Using These Different Spellings 

Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez led the Dolby theatre audience’s applause, the media backstage greeted Arquette like a conquering hero and Hillary Clinton, among others, echoed her denunciation.” – The Guardian

“He tells Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Look, if people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they’re lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me — I make no apologies for that.” – The Economist

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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