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Actor vs. Actress — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 12, 2023
An actor is a person, traditionally male, who portrays characters in theatrical, film, or television productions. An actress, on the other hand, has traditionally referred to females in the same profession.
Actor vs. Actress — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Actor and Actress

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Key Differences

Actor and actress are terms rooted in the performing arts world, specifically designating those who portray characters in plays, films, television shows, and other performance mediums. The term "actor" has historically been associated with male performers. It denotes a person who steps into the shoes of a character, using their skills and talents to bring a written role to life, allowing audiences to experience stories in a compelling manner.
Conversely, the term "actress" has been the female counterpart to "actor." An actress, like an actor, immerses herself in a character's role, lending voice, emotion, and physicality to a scripted part. For many years, these gender-specific titles have helped audiences and industry professionals distinguish between male and female performers.
However, as society progresses and conversations around gender inclusivity and neutrality intensify, there's been a shift in the usage of these terms. Many in the industry now prefer the term "actor" as a gender-neutral designation, applicable to performers of all genders. This shift aims to reduce gender biases and promote equality in the profession.
Actress, while still widely used and recognized, has seen diminished use in some contexts. Some female performers prefer "actor" to emphasize their skills and craft rather than gender. Nonetheless, both terms remain pivotal in the lexicon of the performing arts, each with its history, implications, and nuances.

Comparison Chart

Gender Association

Traditionally male.
Traditionally female.
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Profession

Performs in plays, films, TV shows, etc.
Performs in plays, films, TV shows, etc.

Usage Trend

Increasingly used as gender-neutral.
Some prefer "actor" for gender neutrality.

Award Titles

"Best Actor" in many award ceremonies.
"Best Actress" in many award ceremonies.

Etymology

Derived from Latin "actor" meaning "doer."
Female form of "actor."

Compare with Definitions

Actor

A male person who portrays a character in a performance.
The leading actor received praise for his portrayal.

Actress

A woman involved in a particular activity or domain.
As an activist and actress, she made a difference in many realms.

Actor

A participant in an action or process.
The key actor in the negotiation was the mediator.

Actress

A woman who performs in films, plays, or television productions.
The actress spent hours in makeup before her scene.

Actor

Someone, regardless of gender, who performs in films, plays, or television.
The actor prepared diligently for the challenging role.

Actress

A female who feigns a role or attitude.
She's not truly pleased; she's an actress playing a part.

Actor

A person who behaves in a way that is not genuine.
He's not truly upset; he's just an actor seeking attention.

Actress

A female person who portrays a character in a theatrical production.
The young actress was excited for her first major role.

Actor

One who takes part in a situation.
Every actor in this drama needs to take responsibility.

Actress

A female participant in a staged event or situation.
The award-winning actress was revered by her peers.

Actor

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance (also actress; see below). The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television.

Actress

A woman who is an actor. See Usage Note at -ess.

Actor

A person who behaves in the manner of a character, usually by reciting scripted dialogue, in order to entertain an audience, especially in a play, movie, or television show.

Actress

A female who performs on the stage or in films.

Actor

One who takes part; a participant
"France, Britain ... and any other external actors now involved ... in the affairs of the continent" (Helen Kitchen).

Actress

A female doer or "actor" (in a general sense).

Actor

One, such as the manager of a business, who acts for another.

Actress

A female actor or doer.

Actor

In civil law, the plaintiff in an action.

Actress

A female stageplayer; a woman who acts a part.

Actor

Someone who institutes a legal suit; a plaintiff or complainant.

Actress

A female actor

Actor

(obsolete) Someone acting on behalf of someone else; a guardian.

Actor

Someone or something that takes part in some action; a doer, an agent.

Actor

A person who acts a part in a theatrical play or (later) in film or television; a dramatic performer.

Actor

An advocate or proctor in civil courts or causes.

Actor

(grammar) The subject performing the action of a verb.

Actor

(software engineering) The entity that performs a role (in use case analysis).

Actor

One who acts, or takes part in any affair; a doer.

Actor

A theatrical performer; a stageplayer.
After a well graced actor leaves the stage.

Actor

An advocate or proctor in civil courts or causes.

Actor

A theatrical performer

Actor

A person who acts and gets things done;
He's a principal actor in this affair
When you want something done get a doer
He's a miracle worker

Common Curiosities

Are "actor" and "actress" interchangeable?

While some use "actor" for all genders, the terms aren't always interchangeable, especially in traditional contexts.

What does "actress" signify?

"Actress" traditionally designates a female performer in plays, films, or TV shows.

Is the term "actor" male-specific?

Historically, "actor" referred to males, but it's increasingly used as a gender-neutral term.

Can "actress" denote a female participant outside of arts?

It's rare, but "actress" might be metaphorically used outside of performance contexts.

Why do some females prefer the title "actor"?

Some prefer "actor" to emphasize craft over gender and promote equality.

Has the term "actress" become obsolete?

No, "actress" is still widely used, but its usage is evolving with societal changes.

Why are there gender-specific titles in the performing arts?

Historically, many professions had gendered titles, reflecting societal roles. These are now evolving.

Which term is older, actor or actress?

"Actor" is older, with "actress" evolving as the female counterpart.

Can "actor" be used outside of performance contexts?

Yes, "actor" can denote a participant or agent in any situation or process.

Are there award categories differentiating actor and actress?

Yes, many award ceremonies have separate "Best Actor" and "Best Actress" categories.

Is "actor" more prestigious than "actress"?

No, both terms denote professionals in the performing arts, with no inherent prestige difference.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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