Theatre vs Theater – Facts and Fancies

Theatre vs. Theater

theatre;theater; theater language;theater lingo;theater slang

The spelling of the word theater/theatre is one of the most oddly contested issues in the world of drama. For some curious reason, diehards cling to one variation or another with a variety of justifications about which one is “correct.”

Well, the answer is: Both and Neither. It depends on your nationality, for the most part. Here’s what Grammarphobia has to say about it, which echoes the OED, Grammarly, WiseGeek, Quora and many others.

From Grammarphobia:

There’s been a lot of nonsense written about “theater” and “theatre”—that one is for movies and the other is for plays; or that one refers to a building and the other to an art form; or that one spelling is lowbrow while the other is refined. But these are merely variant spellings of the same noun.

We suspect that some Americans lean toward “theatre” because of its British associations (just as the spelling “colour ” appeals to Anglophile cosmetics manufacturers). In other words, it has snob appeal.

“Theatre” is the only spelling now recognized in Britain. “Theater” is the traditional American spelling, but “theatre” is now equally acceptable in the US, according to standard dictionaries.

Personally, we prefer “theater,” but you’re free to make your own choice. No matter how you spell it, the meaning is the same.

The truth is that the spelling of this word has fluctuated over the centuries, and “theatre” hasn’t always been the preference in the British Isles.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the “earliest recorded English forms, c1380, are theatre and teatre.” But, the OED adds, “from c1550 to 1700, or later, the prevalent spelling was theater.”

So Chaucer, writing in Middle English in the late 1300s, used “theatre.” Two hundred years later, Shakespeare and Spenser used “theater.”

So, when it comes to writing or naming your theater/theatre, take your pick.


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