noun \ˈplā\
Updated on: 26 Jul 2017

Definition of play

  1. 1a :  swordplayb archaic :  game, sportc :  the conduct, course, or action of a gamed :  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 baseballe :  the action in which cards are played after bidding in a card gamef :  the moving of a piece in a board game (such as chess)g :  one's turn in a game it's your play

  2. 2a obsolete :  sexual intercourseb :  amorous flirtation :  dalliance

  3. 3a :  recreational activity; especially :  the spontaneous activity of childrenb :  absence of serious or harmful intent :  jest said it in playc :  the act or an instance of playing on words or speech soundsd :  gaming, gambling

  4. 4a (1) :  an act, way, or manner of proceeding :  maneuver that was a play to get your fingerprints — Erle Stanley Gardner (2) :  deal, ventureb (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. 5 :  emphasis or publicity especially in the news media wished the country received a better play in the American press — Hugh MacLennan

  6. 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

  7. 7a :  the stage representation of an action or storyb :  a dramatic composition :  drama

in play

  1. :  in condition or position to be legitimately played

out of play

  1. :  not in play

Examples of play in a Sentence

  1. The play is based on a real-life event.

  2. He wrote, directed, and starred in the play.

  3. His fifth grade class is putting on a play about the first Thanksgiving.

  4. I've gone to all of my daughter's school plays.

  5. The book discusses the role of play in a child's development.

  6. As the saying goes, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

  7. Please, no talking during play.

  8. Rain held up play for an hour.

  9. The chess match finally ended after three hours of play.

  10. The two golfers were tied at the start of play yesterday.

Recent Examples of play from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of play

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

Synonym Discussion of play

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




Definition of play

  1. intransitive verb
  2. 1a :  to engage in sport or recreation :  frolicb :  to have sexual relations; especially :  to have promiscuous or illicit sexual relations —usually used in the phrase play aroundc (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

  3. 2a :  to take advantage playing on fearsb (1) :  flutter, frisk (2) :  to move or operate in a lively, irregular, or intermittent mannerc :  to move or function freely within prescribed limitsd :  to produce a stream hoses playing on a fire

  4. 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 playingb (1) :  to act in a dramatic production (2) :  show, run what's playing at the theaterc :  to be suitable for dramatic performanced :  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 toe :  to produce a specified impression in performance a movie that plays like a sitcom

  5. 4a :  to engage or take part in a gameb :  to perform in a position in a specified manner the outfielders were playing deepc :  to perform an action during one's turn in a gamed :  gamblee (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

  6. 5 :  to gain approval :  go over her idea did not play well

  7. transitive verb
  8. 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 (4) :  exploit, manipulateb :  to pretend to engage in the activities of play war children playing housec (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

  9. 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 theatersb :  to perform or act the part of play the fool

  10. 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 mannerb (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 hunchc :  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 trickd :  to catch or pick up (a batted ball) :  field played the ball bare-handede :  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

  11. 4a :  to perform (music) on an instrument play a waltzb :  to perform music on play the violinc :  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

  12. 5a :  wield, plyb :  to discharge, fire, or set off with continuous effect played the hose on the burning buildingc :  to cause to move or operate lightly and irregularly or intermittentlyd :  to keep (a hooked fish) in action


play \ˌplā-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun


play \ˈplā-ə-bəl\ adjective

play ball

play both ends against the middle

  1. :  to set opposing interests against each other to one's own ultimate profit

play by ear

  1. :  to deal with something without previous planning or instructions

play games

  1. :  to try to hide the truth from someone by deceptive means

play one's cards

  1. :  to act with the means available to one

play possum

  1. :  to pretend to be asleep or dead

play second fiddle

  1. :  to take a subordinate position

play the field

  1. :  to date or have romantic connections with more than one person

play the game

  1. :  to act according to a code or set of standards

play with a full deck

  1. :  to be rational or sane

play with fire

  1. :  to do something risky or dangerous

play with oneself

Examples of play in a Sentence

  1. The children were playing in the yard.

  2. Can Sara come out and play?

  3. He played by himself in his room.

  4. Did you play any sports in high school?

  5. No one dares to play chess with him.

  6. The children were playing hide-and-seek.

  7. I have a chess set. Do you want to play?

  8. It's your turn to play.

  9. She hurt her wrist but decided to continue playing.

  10. He played in every major tournament this year.

Recent Examples of play from the Web

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.

First Known Use of play

before 12th century

Financial Definition of 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.

PLAY Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of play for English Language Learners

  • : to do activities for fun or enjoyment

  • : to participate in (a game or sport)

  • : to compete against (someone) in a game

PLAY Defined for Kids



verb \ˈplā\

Definition of play for Students




  1. 1 :  to do activities for enjoyment

  2. 2 :  to take part in a game of play cards

  3. 3 :  to compete against in a game We are playing the Dodgers today.

  4. 4 :  to produce music or sound with play the piano play a CD

  5. 5 :  to perform the music of He played my favorite tune.

  6. 6 :  to act or present on the stage or screen She was chosen to play Annie. What's playing at the movies?

  7. 7 :  pretend 1 Let's play school. The dog played dead.

  8. 8 :  to perform (as a trick) for fun

  9. 9 :  2act 2, behave She doesn't play fair.

  10. 10 :  to handle something idly :  toy Don't play with your food!

  11. 11 :  to affect something by performing a function Luck played a part in their winning.

  12. 12 :  to move swiftly or lightly Leaves played in the wind.




Definition of play for Students

  1. 1 :  a story performed on stage

  2. 2 :  the action of or a particular action in a game That was a great play by the shortstop.

  3. 3 :  exercise or activity for enjoyment children at play

  4. 4 :  a person's turn to take part in a game It's your play.

  5. 5 :  quick or light movement We felt the light play of a breeze through the room.

  6. 6 :  freedom of motion There is too much play in the steering wheel.

  7. 7 :  a way of acting :  conduct fair play

  8. 8 :  the state of being active Now she would have to call into play all of her climbing ability … — Brian Jacques, Redwall

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