What's the difference between those words with regard to a public showing, as of goods or works of art? Can these be used interchangeably?

Both "exhibit" and "exposition" are marked as Americanisms by Adrienne's English-French Dictionary, Ed. 1991.


A public show or exhibition (M-W)

Bertha, by this time a writer and critic, had attended an exposition in Cologne where she had seen Gropius's work enthusiastically received.

Gustav Mahler: A Life in Crisis

Werkbund Exposition, 1914. Deutz machine factory and office building. Court elevation, showing glass-walled offices & the covered terrace on the roof.; Walter Gropius; 1914

University of Michigan Library


A public showing (as of works of art, objects of manufacture, or athletic skill) a one-man exhibition; an exhibition game (M-W)


An auto show, also known as a motor show or car show, is a public exhibition of current automobile models, debuts, concept cars, or out-of-production classics. It is attended by automotive industry representatives, dealers, auto journalists and car enthusiasts.



North American An exhibition: people flocked to the exhibit in record-breaking numbers

Oxford Dictionaries Online

There he attended an exhibit of Nazi paraphernalia held on the campus of Tubingen University

The Pot Plan: Louie B. Stumblin and the War on Drugs

His one great success was a highly innovative glass house exhibited at the Cologne Werkbund exhibit in 1914.

Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy


4 Answers 4


In American English, originally the word "exhibit" as a noun was not applied to "goods or works of art" generally.

Instead, quoting Noah Webster's 1839 An American dictionary of the English language:

EX-HIB'IT, n 1. Any paper produced or presented to a court or to auditors, referees or arbitrators as a voucher or in proof of facts; a voucher or document produced. -2 In chancery a deed or writing produced in court, sworn by a witness, and a certificate of the oath indorsed on by the examiner or commissioner.

The 1904 Funk and Wangnalls A Standard Dictionary of the English Language does have a noun-meaning of "exhibit" of, among other meanings:

Any object or collection of objects placed on show; as, an agricultural exhibit

The current Webster's definition of EXHIBIT as a noun is:

1 : a document or material object produced and identified in court or before an examiner for use as evidence 2 : something exhibited 3 : an act or instance of exhibiting : EXHIBITION

So in the mid 1800's exhibition and exposition were interchangeable, and now all 3 are interchangeable.


I will answer as an American layperson, from what I consider the most popular to the least popular in common use.


A public showing of a collection of artifacts, often in a museum or gallery. Less commonly a performance on stage, in which case typically phrased as e.g. "dance exhibition" rather than simply "an exhibition" (which absent other context seems to imply artwork).


A single artifact being shown, or a single collection of artifacts within a larger set (or exhibition), as in "Let's visit the dinosaur exhibit first."


Not very common in its full form, but somewhat popular as "expo" as "the car expo" would be a showing of motor vehicles for sale. Saying "exposition" when talking about an "expo" would likely sound unnatural in colloquial American English. Used in its full form within the art world to indicate a large display of artifacts with a single theme, as in "An exposition of young American photographers." May refer to something considered novel, rather than the well-known: "An exposition of Warhol's works" sounds stilted if the audience is understood to have seen the works before.


Exhibition vs Exposition: http://www.ziggurat.es/cat/lecciones_ingles/index.asp?id=727

"exposition" is a title given to some exhibitions, usually showcasing modern technology. You should never refer to an exhibition as an exposition, unless that exhibition is specifically titled as an exposition. The two words are not interchangeable.

Exhibit vs Exhibition: http://grammarist.com/usage/exhibit-exhibition/

Basically, an exhibit is a part of an exhibition, and, conversely, an exhibition is a collection of exhibits.


Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1984) discusses exhibit, exhibition, and exposition (along with the nouns show and fair) in an entry alphabetized under exhibition:

exhibition, show, exhibit, exposition, fair are comparable when meaning a public display of objects of interest. Exhibition and, less often in strictly formal use except in art circles, show are applicable to any such display of objects of art, manufacture, commerce, or agriculture or to a display (as by pupils, members, or associates) of prowess or skill (as in gymnastics, oratory, or music) [examples omitted] ... Exhibit typically denotes an object or collection displayed by a single person, group, or organization in an exhibition [example omitted] but in some uses it is not clearly distinct from exhibition or show, since the scope of an exhibit may vary from a single object to a collection coextensive with an exhibition; thus an artist might present a one-man show which would be at once an exhibition and an exhibit of his work. Exposition is the usual term for a very large exhibition, especially one involving the participation of many states and countries [examples omitted] ...

I think that Merriam-Webster's treatment here does an excellent job of calling out the implied difference in scale and specificity of the three words that the OP asks about, from largest and broadest (exposition) to smallest and narrowest (exhibit), while still acknowledging the considerable overlap that can exist among the terms, especially between exhibit and exhibition.

Although Merriam-Webster treats exposition as a subset of exhibition—specifically "a very large exhibition"—I think that in recent years it has become unusual to refer to an exposition (like Montreal's Expo 67, or any other World's Fair) as being simply an "exhibition." In that respect, I think, usage on the ground departs from MW's view that exhibition fully encompasses exposition.

  • "The Department of Conservation intends to build such facilities as a museum and research laboratory, roads and camping areas so that the Pinson Mounds State Park will become an operational archaeological exhibit." books.google.com/… is an example of using "exhibit" for a large scale.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 25, 2016 at 13:09

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