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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > TO PLAY,TO ACT OR TO PERFORM?    


Russian Federation

Dear friends,

One of my collegues, a respected English teacher who teaches the producers, corrected me when I said "the actors played professionally" and remarked  that she usually asked her sts not to use the verb �to play � when speaking about theatre, she said that the verbs to act/to perform are more appropriate, they have many derivatives: action, actor, performance etc...   �To play �could be used for  cinema actors, she added. I can realize what she means but I am still of the opinion that   �to play � is one of the synonyms expressing this action onstage. I know that much is allowed in an informal speech, but I met the usage  in literature too.
What do you think? It �s very important for me to know yr point of view, if possible, please.
Thank you, 

16 Jun 2011      


As an English English teacher, Using the word play, when talking about the the profession of stage actors doesn �t shock me at all, ex � �Bruce Willis is playing at the Old Vic ( a theatre in London) at the moment. � �As a second choice, I feel �to perform � would be more appropriate. I would hesitate about using � to act � in this context , To act is more often used when talking about someone s behaviour, than the acting profession. Hope this helps Angela.

16 Jun 2011     

Russian Federation

Thank you, honey76, for your clarification.
I appreciate it very much!

16 Jun 2011     

Russian Federation

Dear Olga,
I often come across the verb "to act" when I read about actors and their skills (I like reading about the actors such as Judy Garland, Nathalie Wood, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland etc). Unfortunately I don �t remember the context. But if I wanted to say something about acting skills I would use the verb "act". I consulted an online dictionary and that is what it says:

act the part of Othello - играть роль Отелло (http://multitran.ru/c/m.exe?CL=1&s=act&l1=1)

I also googled "played professionally " and "acted professionally".
"Played professionally " has  23 400 000 search results and the first page consists of sport results.

"acted professionally" has 4 460 000 search results and the sentences are not about actors, but about doctors etc. i.e. they are about behaviour.

"actors acted professionally" has 3 200 000 results.

"actors played professionally" has 15 000 000 results.

"actors performed professionally" has 15 000 000 results.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

16 Jun 2011     

United States

OK, here �s how I see it:
Act is usually referring to the career, rather than a single performance.
   No, I don �t want to direct this play. I want to act.
To act professionally means to behave professionally (as Natalia said), so it isn �t directly related to actors. Anyone can act professionally (or not). It also means to have the profession of actor. George Burns acted professionally for 80 years.
Play can be used the same as perform, but isn �t as common as perform in this sense.
   Olivier was playing King Lear when I saw him. He was performing at the Palace Theater in Cincinnati. The show was playing there for two weeks.  (In this sense, it is more common to use "performing" for the actor and "playing" for the play).
There is a lot more explanation possible, but I �m out of time. I hope this helps.


16 Jun 2011     

Russian Federation

Thank you for yr kind answers, Natalia and Bruce.

16 Jun 2011