the·​ater | \ ˈthē-ə-tər How to pronounce theater (audio) , ˈthē-tər, ˈthēə-tər, 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 Society dad who excoriated his son for wasting his time on theater. Washington Post, 11 Oct. 2021 Russian news reports say an actor has died in an accident during a scene change at Moscow’s Bolshoi theater. NBC News, 10 Oct. 2021 Nwoko also built a cultural center in the same city, as well as a theater in Benin. Helena Madden, Robb Report, 9 Oct. 2021 The theater is an exceptional and different experience. Michael Gale, Forbes, 5 Oct. 2021 The enormous new theater is Imax’s eighth in Germany. Rebecca Davis, Variety, 27 Sep. 2021 For cast members like Jordan, musical theater is the family business. Kaitlyn Bancroft, The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Sep. 2021 The other Look theater is in Dallas, near the intersection of Northwest Highway and Stemmons Freeway. Ann Gehan, Dallas News, 9 Sep. 2021 The construction: The David Geffen Theater seats were more challenging to construct partly because the theater is larger and more complicated. Los Angeles Times, 8 Sep. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective If anything, these non-theater offshoots confirm the draw of immersion. Manuel Mendoza, Dallas News, 27 Aug. 2021 The proceedings kicked off with a greeting from the designer live from Times Square this morning, followed by pre-recorded trip to Sardi’s, Kors’ favorite pre-theater restaurant, where caricatures of movie stars line the walls. Alison S. Cohn, Harper's BAZAAR, 20 Apr. 2021 Marcel’s popular pre-theater menu has been suspended, however, at least until the Kennedy Center reopens. Washington Post, 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

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

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Theater.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for theater



English Language Learners Definition of theater

: a building where plays, shows, etc., are performed on a stage
: 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 theater (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

More from Merriam-Webster on theater

Nglish: Translation of theater for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of theater for Arabic Speakers


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