Theater vs Theatre: What's the Difference?

Photo Credit: Jeff Sprang Photography
Photo Credit: Jeff Sprang Photography

Ah! The english language - the first subject that I was involved with in school that I excelled at... but also probably one of the worst subjects I was involved with.  Unlike many other languages that have a basic format that can be used time and time again and make perfect sense, English continues to confuse people and students alike.  In many circumstances, there are different spellings for the same place or thing (grey vs gray, disc vs. disk, ax vs. axe, etc.).  For theater (or is it theatre), there are two spellings, but what are the rules when using them?

British vs. American

No, I am not talking about the American Revolution!  I am starting off with mentioning that there are two different english languages - British English and American English.  This can make writing in the english language difficult because there are spelling variants on many different words.  There are preferred spellings of words in each country, but most of the time, credit is still given regardless of the form used...but there is technique used when writing!

So What's the Difference?

Both theater and theatre are nouns with their definition being a building, part of a building, or outdoor area for housing dramatic presentations, stage entertainments, or
motion-picture shows.  Here are some correct examples of them used in sentences:

  • "The Renaissance's lead crystal chandelier, made in 1925 in Austria-Hungary, can be found in the auditorium of the theatre."
  • "There were once two theaters in Mansfield, Ohio - the Renaissance and the Madison."

But they also refer to the profession or activity of writing, directing, producing, or acting in plays/musicals. Such as:

  • "Ryan, what caused you to go into theater?"
  • "I have been in love with the theatre before I even knew it was a thing!"

So when do you use each one?

Well, it doesn't actually matter, for the most part.  There is no actual difference, both in sense and function, but there are dialectical situations to consider, as stated earlier.

Using Theatre

The preferred spelling in British English is theatre since its beginning of origin.  If you are a writer -- British or American -- you'll know to write your english based on your audience.  And as a writer, take note of what your audience seems to unanimously use to communicate more effectively toward them.  According to British-style guides, the listing theatre is the preferred spelling.

Using Theater

However, vice versa, theater is the preferred spelling in American English, according to Garner's Modern American Usage!

One note to make, though, is the use of theater and theatre are distinguish slightly different.  Some try to acknowledge that theatre is the art form and theater is the building where theatre is conducted. However, this "trend" is not popular.

Movie Theater or Movie Theatre?

This is a funny one!  Its the same idea as with just the one word theater.  The idea is, in America one would write movie theater and in Great Britain, we'd say movie theatre.

But an interesting fact is that "movie theater" is an American term.  In Great Britain, you're more likely to hear one say, "Going to the Cinema," or "Going to the pictures."

So there you have it!  Now that you've learned a little more about the English language, you can spot where someone is from or who they're targeting by their use of the word theater (my main audience is American English)!

So, make sure to come to the Renaissance Theatre to see quality theatre in our theater!