physical education


: instruction in the development and care of the body ranging from simple calisthenic exercises to a course of study providing training in hygiene, gymnastics, and the performance and management of athletic games

Did you know?

The Importance (Linguistic and Otherwise) of Physical Education

Physical education has existed since ancient times, but it wasn’t until several hundred years ago that the term itself (abbreviated as phys ed or PE) came into being. Its earliest known use comes, oddly enough, from a 1748 book titled Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music: “Cannot some years prove more favorable than others to the physical education of children. . . ?” A few decades after these words were published, gymnasiums opened across Europe, especially in Germany, where gymnastics associations (or turnvereins) fostered physical health as well as civic involvement and cultural enrichment. Thanks in part to immigration, these clubs, and European enthusiasm for athletics in general, spread to the U.S. During the 19th century, American educators adopted European methods of teaching physical training, and both the word physical education and the phenomenon it represents became well established in this country.

Examples of physical education in a Sentence

He teaches physical education at the high school.
Recent Examples on the Web My wife, Alice, used to teach physical education in the Cleveland Heights, Ohio, school system, and Baraa had been a foreign-exchange student at Cleveland Heights High School. Bert Stratton, WSJ, 15 Nov. 2023 For two decades, James directed Methuen’s cross-country program and taught physical education at the school. Aj Traub,, 19 Sep. 2023 Ser-Od continued to run throughout high school and, after attending university, briefly taught physical education. Scott Cacciola, New York Times, 26 Aug. 2023 She had been introduced to SRC a few years earlier through her private school’s physical education program. Gus Garcia-Roberts, Anchorage Daily News, 15 July 2023 The cost to replace the Grant Bowl and Buckman Track should be, at minimum, proportional to each entity’s use and include the use of the fields for both high schools’ athletics programs and physical education classes. Nik Streng, oregonlive, 4 Sep. 2023 The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has a policy in place for locker rooms, physical education classes, and intramural and interscholastic athletic activities requiring that students be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Condé Nast, SELF, 24 Aug. 2023 After earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Hurley taught briefly in Rhode Island and then at the University of Chicago Lab School. Bob Goldsborough, Chicago Tribune, 12 Sep. 2023 More than 400 Alabama schools offer archery as part of its physical education program. Michael C. Bolton, al, 11 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'physical education.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1748, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of physical education was in 1748

Dictionary Entries Near physical education

Cite this Entry

“Physical education.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition

physical education

: instruction in the care and development of the body

More from Merriam-Webster on physical education

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!