physical education


Definition of 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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Milz, of Oconomowoc, was a physical education and health teacher in the Trevor-Wilmot School District for five years before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. Evan Frank, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Former teacher and Oconomowoc resident strives to positively introduce athletics to children," 10 July 2018 In Virginia, the basic premise is that physical education or health education curricula for ninth and 10th graders have a mental health component. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune, "New York and Virginia Become the First States to Require Mental Health Education in Schools," 4 July 2018 What drew the most conversation and was the same among both concepts: demolition and replacement of current athletic and physical education facilities. Caitlin Mullen,, "As Imagine OPRF hears school board feedback, some urge board to be mindful of potential cost," 27 June 2018 Barbara Sanchez, physical education and health teacher at the Obama Middle Schools in District 163, Park Forest and Chicago Heights, reminds students that a healthy brain needs a healthy body. Donna Vickroy, Daily Southtown, "Summer vacation is no time to stop learning," 15 June 2018 Murphy began her career in education in 1984 teaching junior high physical education in Auburn City schools teaching college, first at Judson College in Marion from 1985 to 1988, and then at the University of West Georgia from 1988 to 1993. Trisha Powell Crain,, "4 Alabama state superintendent finalists named," 13 Apr. 2018 Two teenage boys were arrested a year ago on suspicion of starting the fire, which occurred in November 2016 and also damaged the gym and physical education offices. Daniel Langhorne,, "Corona del Mar High computer lab to get upgrades," 12 Apr. 2018 In high school, she was forced to take a dance class for a physical education credit. Lisa Deaderick,, "Taking a chance on dance led to a new career," 5 Apr. 2018 Saints International also provides a three-hour physical education (PE) program just as a student would receive from a traditional school, and among the approximately 50 youth in that portion of the curriculum is 11-year-old Layla McLaren., "Saints are a heavenly source of sports for home-schoolers," 25 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'physical education.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of physical education

1748, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about physical education

Share physical education

Statistics for physical education

Last Updated

20 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for physical education

The first known use of physical education was in 1748

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for physical education

physical education


English Language Learners Definition of physical education

: sports and exercise taught in schools

physical education


Kids Definition of physical education

: instruction in the care and development of the body

More from Merriam-Webster on physical education

Spanish Central: Translation of physical education Encyclopedia article about physical education

Comments on physical education

What made you want to look up physical education? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


playful or foolish behavior

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Autumn Words of the Day 2018

  • a-top-down-image-of-road-through-an-autumn-forest
  • Which is a synonym of fugacious?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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