the·​ater | \ ˈthē-ə-tər How to pronounce theater (audio) , ˈthēə-, usually in Southern ˈthē-ˌā- also thē-ˈā- How to pronounce theater (audio) \
variants: or theatre

Definition of theater

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a building or area for dramatic performances
b : a building or area for showing motion pictures
c : an outdoor structure for dramatic performances or spectacles in ancient Greece and Rome
2a : dramatic literature : plays
b : dramatic representation as an art or profession : drama
3 : a place or sphere of enactment of usually significant events or action the theater of public life
4a : a place rising by steps or gradations a woody theater of stateliest view— John Milton
b : a room often with rising tiers of seats for assemblies (as for lectures or surgical demonstrations)
5a : dramatic or theatrical quality or effectiveness
c : entertainment in the form of a dramatic or diverting situation or series of events their public feud made for good theater



Definition of theater (Entry 2 of 2)

: of, relating to, or appropriate for use in a theater of operations theater nuclear weapons

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Synonyms for theater

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of theater in a Sentence

Noun the oldest theater in the city the theater district in New York City The film is now showing in theaters. We enjoyed a weekend of music, dance, and theater. He was very fond of the theater and had purchased tickets for several performances. Her interests include theater and poetry. the theater of 16th-century England She majored in theater in college. a course in American theater His monologues made for good theater.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Lyn, a theater and film industry vet, was tasked with shaping the story into a visually moving Christmas odyssey for the ages. Keyaira Kelly, Essence, "Get To Know The Power Couple Behind Netflix's 'Jingle Jangle' and Their Sweet Love Story," 16 Nov. 2020 The time may come for CEOs to speak out, but most are assuming that Trump's legal challenges and threats are just theater and the change in power will take place uneventfully, Glover said. NBC News, "Top CEOs met to plan response to Trump's election denial," 13 Nov. 2020 The time may come for CEOs to speak out, but most are assuming that Trump's legal challenges and threats are just theater and the change in power will take place uneventfully, Glover said. CBS News, "CEOs may press lawmakers to ensure smooth transition to Biden," 13 Nov. 2020 In Germany, France, and Ireland, schools have been exempted from lockdowns addressing an increase in Covid cases, with the brunt focused on bars, restaurants, gyms, and theater and concert venues instead. Bryce Covert, The New Republic, "New York’s Feckless, Scientifically Illiterate Response to the Covid Second Wave," 12 Nov. 2020 The arguments might be great theater, and most of the justices love the back-and-forth. Nr Editors, National Review, "Letters," 12 Nov. 2020 Meanwhile, Todd creates a home drive-in movie theater and braves water-skiing and axe-throwing to prove he’s young at heart. Kathy Passero, al, "How to watch new episodes of ‘Chrisley Knows Best’," 12 Nov. 2020 The rest of the allocation will assist the county’s music, dance, theater and cultural arts groups. Scott Huddleston,, "Bexar County adds Medicaid expansion to its legislative goals for 2021," 10 Nov. 2020 Over the years, the community tucked within Sanford’s downtown district, had barbers, a blacksmith, a general store, jeweler, doctors, restaurants, a theater and several churches. Martin E. Comas,, "Sanford’s Georgetown neighborhood named to National Register of Historic Places," 9 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Marcel’s popular pre-theater menu has been suspended, however, at least until the Kennedy Center reopens. Washington Post, "A reopened Marcel’s reminds me that fine dining, especially now, is about more than food," 6 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'theater.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of theater


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1c


1977, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for theater


Middle English teatre, theatre, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French thueatre, teatre, borrowed from Latin theātrum "place for viewing dramatic performances," borrowed from Greek théātron, from theā́omai, theâsthai "to gaze at, view, watch, contemplate" (derivative of théā "act of seeing, sight, spectacle, performance," of uncertain origin) + -tron, suffix of instruments

Note: Doric thāéomai and the Syracusan form thāā have led to the assumption of an original *thāwā. Presumably related would be thaûma "wonder, astonishment, object of wonder or admiration, marvel" (see thaumaturge). If táphos "amazement" and synonymous thámbos are related, the alternation [w] / labial stop / -mb- (prenasalized stop?) suggests substratal origin (see R. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009), though the perfect téthēpa "(I) am astonished" reflects complete assimilation into Greek morphology.


from attributive use of theater entry 1

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Time Traveler for theater

Time Traveler

The first known use of theater was in the 14th century

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Statistics for theater

Last Updated

19 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Theater.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for theater


How to pronounce theater (audio) How to pronounce theater (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of theater

: a building where plays, shows, etc., are performed on a stage
US : a building or room in which movies are shown
: plays in general or as a form of entertainment


variants: or theatre \ ˈthē-​ə-​tər \

Kids Definition of theater

1 : a building in which plays, motion pictures, or shows are presented
2 : the art or profession of producing plays
3 : plays or the performance of plays
4 : a place or area where some important action is carried on a theater of war


variants: or theatre \ ˈthē-​ət-​ər How to pronounce theatre (audio) \

Medical Definition of theater

1 : a room often with rising tiers of seats for assemblies (as for lectures or surgical demonstrations)
2 usually theatre, British : a hospital operating room

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