Most of us are familiar with the word "re-enact."

re-enact |ˌrēəˈnakt|

verb [ with obj. ]

act out (a past event): bombers were gathered together to re-enact the historic first air attack.

A historical movie might include a re-enactment of the American Civil War, while a fictional movie about the future might include a "pre-enactment" of World War III.

A pre-enactment would be an enactment (the process of acting something out) of something that has not yet happened but one hopes, suspects, or knows will happen. Just as re-enactments are flawed and don't perfectly represent what they intend to, pre-enactments may have missing details or variations from what actually will happen.

This word would be different from "practice" or "rehearsal" because it's not the precursor to a performance. Rather it is the precursor to an actual event that would occur normally but which may be represented by a pre-enactment.

One example involves rituals performed by religious groups—they may pre-enact a reception into heaven or a ceremony that is to take place after death. They do this while still living, even though they believe such an event will occur regardless of their pre-enactment.

Another example is of a couple (probably in a cheesy romantic comedy) that has recently fallen madly in love. They're so caught up that they pre-enact their marriage ceremony, albeit without a few key people and the necessary wardrobe.

However, "pre-enact" doesn't appear to be a widely used word. Is there a similar word that means to act out a future event? If not, is it acceptable to use "pre-enact" despite it not being found in most dictionaries, not even Wiktionary?

  • 3
    There's nothing wrong that I can see with "pre-enact." One reason it's not used is probably because the activity is rare. Can you give an example sentence that describes a situation where you would use this word?
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 1:01
  • @sumelic I didn't find it in most official dictionaries I looked at...
    – intcreator
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 1:24
  • No dictionary, not even the biggest unabridged dictionary, lists all real words. Therefore, you can't conclude that something is not a "real word" if it is not in a dictionary. There are many prefixes such as "re-," "pre-" and "non-" that have clear, systematic meanings and that can be combined with large classes of words. For example, not many dictionaries define the word "re-kill," but people know what it means because it's made up of well-known parts put together in a systematic way.
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 4:12
  • 2
    At first I found "pre-enact" strange and too newfangled, but I went to my go-to dictionary, the complete OED, and they define "re-enact" as "to give a dramatic reproduction of (a past event)." The idea of giving a dramatic reproduction of a future event seems to me to make sense. I think there's an important distinction here between this and drama. We don't speak of perfoming Hamlet as re-enacting it, because we don't believe those events occured. So it seems necessary to me that the actors believe that it will actually occur.
    – Al Maki
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 23:38
  • 1
    Rehearal still looks good to me. It's very common to have wedding rehearsals, i.e. a preenactment of the actual ceremony.
    – S Conroy
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 20:17

7 Answers 7


I'd love to help, but I'm just not sure what a pre-enactment would be. Are you saying a pretend period before something actually happens? Then, in my opinion, it would be better to call it a rehearsal or a dry run.

But I would need to know more. You say that, for instance, a fictional movie about the future might include a "pre-enactment" of World War III. It's not really a "pre-enactment," since we don't know for sure that World War III will happen (and let's hope it doesn't). What you describe is speculative, so I'm troubled by the use of "enactment."

EDIT: This post was made before the author updated his original query to include a discussion of my ideas about 'rehearsal' and 'dry run.'

But you do raise an interesting word challenge: is there a word that describes a staging of things that we know for certain are going to happen?

For example, in the Seinfeld episode "The Non-Fat Yogurt," an integral part of the plot was the mayoral election between incumbent David Dinkins and challenger Rudy Giuliani. Since the episode was shot prior to the election, but would be aired after the election, two endings were shot: one with Dinkins being re-elected, the other (which was aired) with Dinkins losing to Giuliani.

So what would be the word that describes the two scenarios which were filmed prior to the election, an event which WAS guaranteed to happen? Is there even a word to describe that?

SECOND EDIT: I'm still troubled by your latest example. What happens after death is still entirely speculative. It could very well be that nothing happens after death. So to use the word 'enact' to describe a portrayal of what happens after death, in any sense, is to me inaccurate, because the event itself is not guaranteed to happen. But in that specific example, I'd call it a "speculative portrayal" rather than a pre-enactment.

I'd love you to come up with an example I can get behind...and then I'll get back to work on your behalf!

THIRD EDIT: Your new romantic comedy example certainly describes a rehearsal or a dry run (at least to me).

  • Hmm...I'll think of another example but I would also argue that re-enactments must also be somewhat speculative because of the loss of information that is inevitable in the study of history. No enactment will be 100% accurate, but the point is that they try their best to be accurate or at least symbolic of the actual event. Re-enactments may be mostly symbolic. In addition, some re-enactments may be of things the participants believed to have happened in the past but of which there is no scientific evidence, such as Greek plays portraying the gods.
    – intcreator
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 2:12
  • Reenactments may be speculative, but if we wanted to reenact the O.J. Simpson trial, for example, we have weeks and weeks of videotape to reenact it precisely and accurately, should we choose. There need not be anything speculative about a reenactment. But by its very nature, this thing you propose must be speculative, because both of your examples assume something that may never actually occur, and even if they do, we can't possibly know just how they will occur.
    – M. E.
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 4:01
  • So the main difference is that pre-enactments are always speculative while re-enactments are only sometimes speculative.
    – intcreator
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 4:03
  • I could get behind that…
    – M. E.
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 6:00

So this is an old post and it's possible no one will ever read this but:


  • intensive instruction or training in something, typically by means of repeated exercises. "tables can be mastered by drill and practice"
  • a rehearsal of the procedure to be followed in an emergency. "air-raid drills"
  • informal; the correct or recognized procedure or way of doing something. noun: the drill "he didn't know the drill"

Oxford Dictionaries

Typically used for military exercises or emergency procedures but could be generalized for anything you want to prepare for in advance. Drills also tend to be for smaller activities: you could run a drill for a bombing but you probably wouldn't run a drill for World War III (the latter being more of a war-game).

However, drills are typically quite serious and used to prepare for something serious which may not fit the 're-enactment by hobbyists' feel for which I fear you may be looking.


In the sense that you're using it, that of a staging of an event that hasn't happened yet, presented as being 'accurate', there's some precedent for pre-enactment. It's almost always presented as a joke. If you know how things are going to happen, accurately staging it for the benefit of others instead of just telling people, or trying to change the future/ensure it comes about is a very strange way to use this information.

Usually, though, it's implied that the version of events shown isn't a guaranteed accurate vision of the future. It's a prediction. (For instance, Back to the Future Part 2 predicts hoverboards and the political power of a boorish property tycoon.)


I'll just stick with "pre-enact." As sumelic noted, using common prefixes, suffixes, and roots will help people understand at least the intended meaning of a word. Its use isn't widespread, but I've made up many words before that made much less sense than this one.

  • This should be a comment to the OP, not an answer.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 14:32
  • 2
    @Mitch I am the OP so I added the final decision which resolved my original question.
    – intcreator
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 15:44

I think all cases that could be described by pre-enact could also be described by dramatize, though dramatize doesn't distinguish past events from future ones.

ODO's definition:

Adapt (a novel) or present (a particular incident) as a play or film.

Collins expresses that the word can be used for things other than events and for presentations other than stage or film:

to make into a drama; adapt (a story, events, etc.) for performance on the stage, in a film, etc

One example is from p35 of David Seed's 2012 book Future Wars: The Anticipations and the Fears:

For example, the 1984 film Red Dawn dramatizes the heroic struggles of a band of teenage American guerrillas against the colossal occupation armies of the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicruagua

The movie refered to the conflict as "World War III," and envisioned future events.

I think the decision whether to use "pre-enact" or "dramatize" would depend on whether it is more important to use established words or to distinguish between showing past events and future events.


Manifest or shamanically pre-enact

This would occur, for example where a cave-man draws a bison on a wall, while getting all excited, feeling now, the emotions he will feel when he does catch one, with the intention of sending out the ‘vibe’ of ‘catching the bison’, to the universe. This is known as ‘shamanism’ (in a nutshell), and more modernly, as ‘manifestation’.

To give another example, a girl buys the underwear she will wear to her wedding - before she has even met her mate. These are ‘physical actions’ in accordance with ‘a goal’, made with ‘the intention’ of such a thing ‘happening’. In accordance with ‘shamanism’, ‘manifestation’ and ‘The Law of Attraction’.

Such ‘pre-enactment’ is said to cause the event to happen, in accordance with ‘The Law of Attraction’ - the ‘law of manifestation that governs all things’.


Trauma and Karma

There’s a whole area of ‘pre-enactment’ involving karma, or the idea (understood incorrectly, by most, in my view, to be a kind of ‘punishment or consequence for what was done before’). This links to ‘trauma’ - traumatic past events, which, because they are emotionally unresolved (ie, couldn’t be processed properly at the time) hang around in the psyche as a kind of recording of an event. As these are tagged as ‘unresolved’ by the sub-conscious mind - the psyche will recreate similar events in a person’s life - to give them the chance to reprocess reenact or work through them ‘now’ (which is the only time that is available). As such, many traumas or difficulties in people’s lives now are the re-enactments of pre-enactments of trauma.

There are therapies such as Past Life therapy that enable an imagined journey through time and allow the sub-conscious mind of the person doing it to emotionally resolve the pre-enacted trauma - so that it will stop re-creating itself in a person’s life.



Another example is when the military are in the U.S., "In the field". This is when they are unavailable for days and practice to be ready for possible future wars.

  • Hello, Tammy. This does not provide a reasonable answer, being far too broad. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 14:31

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