\ ˈplā \

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

d : gaming, gambling

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


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

(4) : exploit, manipulate

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

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Other words from play


playability \ˌplā-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē \ noun
playable \ˈplā-ə-bəl \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for play

Synonyms: Noun

fun, game, jest, sport

Synonyms: Verb

dally, disport, frolic, recreate, rollick, skylark, sport, toy

Antonyms: Noun


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of play in a Sentence


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.


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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Because of his return on a one-year, $1.75 million deal, the smart play seemingly would be to move him for something over letting him walk as a free agent. Jeff Sanders,, "Padres' Tyson Ross looking to get back on track vs. Dodgers," 12 July 2018 The social media play is not so different for Bird in 2018: Just replace shoes with scooters, colorful tiles with graphic murals, and throw on #LoveBird. Madeline Buxton,, "How Scooters Became A Go-To Instagram Prop — & The Next Transportation Revolution," 12 July 2018 Here is the play: #WeirdBaseball! #Walkoff edition! Pete Grathoff, kansascity, "‘How do you lose a game on that?’ The Astros had one of weirdest walk-off wins ever," 11 July 2018 Just as headline-catching as DeChambeau’s play has been is his analytical, biomechanical approach to the game itself. Dargan Southard, USA TODAY, "Bryson DeChambeau says compass was never meant to 'skirt the rules'," 11 July 2018 No complaints about the call or the bad breaks on the play. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Former Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy fumbles ball in bizarre walk-off loss to Houston," 11 July 2018 Netflix also dropped the first trailer for the movie, which is loosely based on the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmon Rostand, and is set in a high school. Kara Nesvig, Teen Vogue, "Shannon Purser's New Movie "Sierra Burgess Is a Loser" Releases First Trailer," 11 July 2018 But Samantha the attendant finally puts a lid on the rogue play, sending Murphy home to his wife early. Amy S. Rosenberg,, "Ocean City and the most cutthroat pickleball game at the Jersey Shore," 11 July 2018 Machado was charged with a throwing error on the play. Eduardo A. Encina,, "Orioles seal third winless road trip of season with 10-1 loss to Twins," 8 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

At the time, Ramírez was a 17-year-old infielder who had just completed his first year of professional baseball in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system playing in the Dominican Summer League. Eduardo A. Encina,, "Orioles right-hander Yefry Ramírez has embraced change on winding path to major leagues," 14 July 2018 Whirlyball is a team sport played in vehicles similar to bumper cars. Erin Hegarty, Naperville Sun, "Whirlyball business with laser tag, bowling proposed for burgeoning 'entertainment district' off Route 59 and I-88," 13 July 2018 Chopra had flown in for the dinner party in the Hamptons, and had previously been trying to get to the U.K. by Saturday to see Serena Williams play in Wimbledon this weekend. Sarah Spellings, The Cut, "Talking With Priyanka Chopra on a Swing in the Hamptons," 13 July 2018 In his last months, my aunt in London sent back photographs of him smiling and playing in parks to everyone, even us in the States. Sadia Hassan, Longreads, "Silence is a Lonely Country: A Prayer in Twelve Parts," 13 July 2018 Hartford Athletic, a United Soccer League expansion team set to begin play in 2019, confirmed to The Courant that its working closely with the New England Revolution to build a direct affiliation between the two franchises. Shawn Mcfarland,, "Hartford Athletic, New England Revolution Moving Towards Direct Affiliation," 13 July 2018 There is talk of more high school games being played in Pleasantville. Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star, "An Indiana gym gem: Restoration of Pleasantville gym a pleasant surprise," 12 July 2018 The cornerback, a Westlake High School graduate, played in nine games for the Bengals last season. Campbell Lutz, ajc, "NFL veteran ‘Pacman’ Jones assaulted at Atlanta airport, police say," 12 July 2018 German experimental rock pioneers Faust plan to do more than play gigs this summer in North America. Gary Graff, Billboard, "German Rock Pioneers Faust Talk Returning to Studio, Toning Down Live Show," 12 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of play


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


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

History and Etymology for play


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

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Learn More about play

Dictionary Entries near play






play about


Statistics for play

Last Updated

19 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for play

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

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More Definitions for play

in play


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



English Language Learners Definition of play

: to do activities for fun or enjoyment

: to participate in (a game or sport)

: to compete against (someone) in a game


\ ˈplā \
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.



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

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Comments on play

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to make amends

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