play

noun
\ ˈplā How to pronounce play (audio) \

Definition of play

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : swordplay
b archaic : game, sport
c : the conduct, course, or action of a game
d : a particular act or maneuver in a game: such as
(1) : the action during an attempt to advance the ball in football
(2) : the action in which a player is put out in baseball
e : the action in which cards are played after bidding in a card game
f : the moving of a piece in a board game (such as chess)
g : one's turn in a game it's your play
2a obsolete : sexual intercourse
b : amorous flirtation : dalliance
3a : recreational activity especially : the spontaneous activity of children
b : absence of serious or harmful intent : jest said it in play
c : the act or an instance of playing on words or speech sounds
4a(1) : an act, way, or manner of proceeding : maneuver that was a play to get your fingerprints— Erle Stanley Gardner
(2) : deal, venture
b(1) : the state of being active, operative, or relevant other motives surely come into play— M. R. Cohen several issues are at play
(2) : brisk, fitful, or light movement the gem presented a dazzling play of colors
(3) : free or unimpeded motion (as of a part of a machine) also : the length or measure of such motion
(4) : scope or opportunity for action
(5) : a function of an electronic device that causes a recording to play
5 : emphasis or publicity especially in the news media wished the country received a better play in the American press— Hugh MacLennan
6 : a move or series of moves calculated to arouse friendly feelings usually used with make made a big play for the girl— Will Herman
7a : the stage representation of an action or story
b : a dramatic composition : drama
in play
: in condition or position to be legitimately played
out of play
: not in play

play

verb
played; playing; plays

Definition of play (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to engage in sport or recreation : frolic
b : to have sexual relations especially : to have promiscuous or illicit sexual relations usually used in the phrase play around
c(1) : to move aimlessly about : trifle
(2) : to toy or fiddle around with something played with her food
(3) : to deal or behave frivolously or mockingly : jest
(4) : to deal in a light, speculative, or sportive manner
(5) : to make use of double meaning or of the similarity of sound of two words for stylistic or humorous effect
2a : to take advantage playing on fears
b(1) : flutter, frisk
(2) : to move or operate in a lively, irregular, or intermittent manner
c : to move or function freely within prescribed limits
d : to produce a stream hoses playing on a fire
3a(1) : to perform music play on a violin
(2) : to sound in performance the organ is playing
(3) : to emit sounds the radio is playing
(4) : to reproduce recorded sounds a record is playing
b(1) : to act in a dramatic production
(2) : show, run what's playing at the theater
c : to be suitable for dramatic performance
d : to act with special consideration so as to gain favor, approval, or sympathy might play to popular prejudices to serve his political ends— V. L. Parrington often used in the phrase play up to
e : to produce a specified impression in performance a movie that plays like a sitcom
4a : to engage or take part in a game
b : to perform in a position in a specified manner the outfielders were playing deep
c : to perform an action during one's turn in a game
d : gamble
e(1) : to behave or conduct oneself in a specified way play safe
(2) : to feign a specified state or quality play dead
(3) : to take part in or assent to some activity : cooperate play along with his scheme
(4) : to act so as to prove advantageous to another usually used in the phrase play into the hands of
5 : to gain approval : go over her idea did not play well

transitive verb

1a(1) : to engage in or occupy oneself with play baseball
(2) : to engage in (an activity) as a game
(3) : to deal with, handle, or manage
b : to pretend to engage in the activities of play war children playing house
c(1) : to amount to by one's efforts played an important role in their success
(2) : to perform or execute for amusement or to deceive or mock play a trick
(3) : wreak play havoc
(4) : to use or introduce as a political or rhetorical strategy play the national security card
2a(1) : to put on a performance of (a play)
(2) : to act in the character or part of
(3) : to act or perform in played leading theaters
b : to perform or act the part of play the fool
3a(1) : to contend against in or as if in a game
(2) : to use as a contestant in a game the coach did not play him
(3) : to perform the duties associated with (a certain position) played quarterback
(4) : to guard or move into position to defend against (an opponent) in a specified manner
b(1) : to wager in a game : stake
(2) : to make wagers on play the races
(3) : to speculate on or in play the stock market
(4) : to operate on the basis of play a hunch
c : to put into action in a game especially : to remove (a playing card) from one's hand and place usually faceup on a table in one's turn either as part of a scoring combination or as one's contribution to a trick
d : to catch or pick up (a batted ball) : field played the ball bare-handed
e : to direct the course of (something, such as a ball) : hit played a wedge shot to the green also : to cause (a ball or puck) to rebound played the ball off the backboard
4a : to perform (music) on an instrument play a waltz
b : to perform music on play the violin
c : to perform music of (a certain composer)
d(1) : to cause (a device, such as a radio) to emit sounds
(2) : to cause the recorded sound or image of (something, such as a record, optical disk, or a digital file) to be reproduced
5a : wield, ply
b : to discharge, fire, or set off with continuous effect played the hose on the burning building
c : to cause to move or operate lightly and irregularly or intermittently
d : to keep (a hooked fish) in action
play ball play both ends against the middle
: to set opposing interests against each other to one's own ultimate profit
play by ear
: to deal with something without previous planning or instructions
play games
: to try to hide the truth from someone by deceptive means
play one's cards
: to act with the means available to one
play possum
: to pretend to be asleep or dead
play second fiddle
: to take a subordinate position
play the field
: to date or have romantic connections with more than one person
play the game
: to act according to a code or set of standards
play with a full deck
: to be rational or sane
play with fire
: to do something risky or dangerous
play with oneself

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from play

Verb

playability \ ˌplā-​ə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce playability (audio) \ noun
playable \ ˈplā-​ə-​bəl How to pronounce playable (audio) \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for play

Noun

fun, jest, sport, game, play mean action or speech that provides amusement or arouses laughter. fun usually implies laughter or gaiety but may imply merely a lack of serious or ulterior purpose. played cards just for fun jest implies lack of earnestness and may suggest a hoaxing or teasing. hurt by remarks said only in jest sport applies especially to the arousing of laughter against someone. teasing begun in sport led to anger game is close to sport, and often stresses mischievous or malicious fun. made game of their poor relations play stresses the opposition to earnest without implying any malice or mischief. pretended to strangle his brother in play

Examples of play in a Sentence

Noun

The play is based on a real-life event. He wrote, directed, and starred in the play. His fifth grade class is putting on a play about the first Thanksgiving. I've gone to all of my daughter's school plays. The book discusses the role of play in a child's development. As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Please, no talking during play. Rain held up play for an hour. The chess match finally ended after three hours of play. The two golfers were tied at the start of play yesterday.

Verb

The children were playing in the yard. Can Sara come out and play? He played by himself in his room. Did you play any sports in high school? No one dares to play chess with him. The children were playing hide-and-seek. I have a chess set. Do you want to play? It's your turn to play. She hurt her wrist but decided to continue playing. He played in every major tournament this year.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Totally normal fetishes include everything from age play to gagging and golden showers. Gigi Engle, Glamour, "Yes, Your Fetish Is Totally Normal," 14 Mar. 2019 During the winter, plaid pajama and red and green pajama sets are hard to escape but during spring pastel colors colors come into play and yes, all things floral. Teen Vogue, "It’s OK If You Want to Wear These 15 Pajamas Out Of The House," 13 Mar. 2019 The games are free to download but players can pay for enhancements to speed up game play or enter in-game lotteries to win special characters. Takashi Mochizuki, WSJ, "Nintendo to Smartphone Gamers: Don’t Spend Too Much on Us," 6 Mar. 2019 Will Maroon 5 play tribute to the SpongeBob SquarePants creator during their halftime performance of Super Bowl LIII? Tim Newcomb, Popular Mechanics, "Weirder Wagers: 7 Strange Ways You Can Bet on the Super Bowl," 30 Jan. 2019 There is most definitely a glass ceiling still in play in Hollywood. Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "Why Were There Fewer Top Female Movie Directors in 2018 Than In 2017?," 4 Jan. 2019 The only time the 1961 Convention rules comes into play is on the rare occasion when the child would otherwise be stateless; in that case, the airline’s country of origin will determine the passport. Mark Ellwood, Condé Nast Traveler, "What Happens to Babies Born on Planes," 26 Oct. 2018 The question is whether Bryant will be ready and healthy for the opener, if not the start of conference play. Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY, "The 10 best tight ends in college football," 13 July 2018 There was one play in Thursday’s game that showed why the Suns made the draft-day trade to move up and get forward Mikal Bridges. Scott Bordow, azcentral, "Phoenix Suns' summer-league takeaways: Deandre Ayton's progress, efforts of Davon Reed, Shaq Harrison," 13 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The video set the tone for a campaign in which Amy is likely to play a large role. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Why Beto O'Rourke's Wife, Amy O'Rourke, Will Be Central to His Presidential Campaign," 15 Mar. 2019 The moves follow concerns that the plane’s stall-prevention feature, which is believed to have played a role in October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia, may also be implicated in last weekend’s Ethiopian Airlines disaster. ... Jon Sindreu, WSJ, "The Companies That Really Suffer From the 737 MAX Debacle," 13 Mar. 2019 Jennifer was reportedly selected to play Aretha by Aretha herself, and this performance only further proves why Jennifer is the perfect fit. Megan Stein, Country Living, "Jennifer Hudson Performed at the Aretha Franklin Tribute and Fans Have a Lot of Thoughts," 11 Mar. 2019 And anyway, when a guy is single, he's seen as free to play the field... no stigma attached. Hannah Orenstein, Seventeen, "17 Surprising Ways You've Internalized Misogyny," 8 Mar. 2019 But the core action remains as soothing to play as ever. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "The 8 best games for your new iPhone, iPad, or Android phone," 26 Dec. 2018 NBCGetty Images Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant plays Annie in Shrill, Hulu’s adaptation of the best-selling Lindy West memoir. Sally Holmes, Marie Claire, "Aidy Bryant's New Hulu Series,'Shrill,' Is Much More Than a 'Body-Positivity Show'," 5 Mar. 2019 After many seasons of The Voice, dedicated fans understand that the coaches play a huge role in the show. Kelly O'sullivan, Country Living, "‘The Voice’ Coach Blake Shelton Has a Quirky Habit That Everyone's Talking About," 5 Mar. 2019 Their dad Alexander Baldwin, Jr., a high school teacher and football coach, died at age 56, so mom Carol played a big role in their upbringing. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Get to Know Billy Baldwin's Wife and Kids, Who Inspired His New Netflix Show 'Northern Rescue'," 1 Mar. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'play.' 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 play

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for play

Noun

Middle English, from Old English plega; akin to Old English plegan to play, Middle Dutch pleyen

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about play

Dictionary Entries near play

plaustrum

Plautus

Plavix

play

playa

play about

playact

Statistics for play

Last Updated

21 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for play

The first known use of play was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for play

in play

noun

Financial Definition of in play

What It Is

A stock is in play when it is widely believed to be a takeover target.

How It Works

Let's say Company XYZ has a ton of cash on its balance sheet, and activist investors have been pressuring it for nine months to sell. Company XYZ finally decides that it is for sale, and announces that it is exploring "strategic partnerships" with interested investors.

Company XYZ stock is in play.

Why It Matters

When a stock is in play, it can run up quickly. That's because the eventual buyer is likely to pay a premium over the current stock price in order to induce the shareholders to sell the company and to beat out any competing bidders. For that reason, some traders are interested in stocks that are in play, and perhaps more important, stocks that could become in play soon.

Source: Investing Answers

play

noun

English Language Learners Definition of play

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a piece of writing that tells a story through the actions and words of characters and that is performed on a stage
: activities that are done especially by children for fun or enjoyment
: the action that happens during a game

play

verb

English Language Learners Definition of play (Entry 2 of 2)

: to do activities for fun or enjoyment
: to participate in (a game or sport)
: to compete against (someone) in a game

play

verb
\ ˈplā How to pronounce play (audio) \
played; playing

Kids Definition of play

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to do activities for enjoyment
2 : to take part in a game of play cards
3 : to compete against in a game We are playing the Dodgers today.
4 : to produce music or sound with play the piano play a CD
5 : to perform the music of He played my favorite tune.
6 : to act or present on the stage or screen She was chosen to play Annie. What's playing at the movies?
7 : pretend sense 1 Let's play school. The dog played dead.
8 : to perform (as a trick) for fun
9 : act entry 2 sense 2, behave She doesn't play fair.
10 : to handle something idly : toy Don't play with your food!
11 : to affect something by performing a function Luck played a part in their winning.
12 : to move swiftly or lightly Leaves played in the wind.

play

noun

Kids Definition of play (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a story performed on stage
2 : the action of or a particular action in a game That was a great play by the shortstop.
3 : exercise or activity for enjoyment children at play
4 : a person's turn to take part in a game It's your play.
5 : quick or light movement We felt the light play of a breeze through the room.
6 : freedom of motion There is too much play in the steering wheel.
7 : a way of acting : conduct fair play
8 : the state of being active Now she would have to call into play all of her climbing ability …— Brian Jacques, Redwall

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on play

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with play

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for play

Spanish Central: Translation of play

Nglish: Translation of play for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of play for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about play

Comments on play

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

WORD OF THE DAY

a shady place in a garden or forest

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt-painting-a-young-scholar-and-his-tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

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

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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