\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

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

Putting out fires while still tending to your own objectives is the central challenge of play. Charlie Theel, Ars Technica, "Arkham Horror Third Edition: The classic Lovecraft adventure returns," 24 Nov. 2018 The fundamental themes of the play are absolutely universal. Adam Rathe, Town & Country, "Laura Donnelly's Family Secrets Became the Basis for the New Play The Ferryman," 12 Nov. 2018 The importance of play for children is well documented. Jennifer Wallace,, "Play Is Important For Adults, Too," 9 July 2018 McVay and his staff will use part of their bye week to study this triumph over the Chiefs, likely turning a critical eye on ways to help a defense that relied on big plays to survive this thriller. Greg Beacham, The Seattle Times, "Rams roll into bye week buzzing from epic win over Chiefs," 21 Nov. 2018 Even on an individual level, hurricanes receive more media play than wildfires. Rani Molla, Recode, "Recent East Coast hurricanes have gotten more media coverage than California wildfires," 21 Nov. 2018 In the midst of blockbuster plays for ratings, Yellin found that people outside the media bubble didn’t seem to understand the issues that the news was sensationalizing. Michelle Ruiz, Vogue, "Jessica Yellin Is a Veteran Reporter Out to Change the Way You Get Your News," 20 Nov. 2018 All the while, mysterious voices whisper as dramatic music plays in the background. Mekita Rivas, Teen Vogue, "Jennifer Lawrence’s New Dior Ad Is Being Accused of Cultural Appropriation," 16 Nov. 2018 The last few weeks have also seen an increase in popular YouTube creators talking about the app, multiple news organizations writing about it, and major ad play on platforms like Tinder and Google where people spend quite a bit of time. Julia Alexander, The Verge, "Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk are on board," 15 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

While there are many factors that go into cardiac events, genetics definitely play a role, Sanjiv Patel, M.D., a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells SELF. Korin Miller, SELF, "This Healthy, Experienced Runner Had a Heart Attack During the New York City Marathon," 10 Dec. 2018 Investments in startups could play a role in such efforts. Casey Newton, The Verge, "How Kevin Hart tweeted himself out of a job hosting the Oscars," 8 Dec. 2018 Financial institutions can also play a greater role. Nithin Coca, Vox, "The most important country for the global climate no one is talking about," 6 Dec. 2018 Mubina Rattonsey, Priyanka's BFF, served as the maid of honor, reports The Sun, while her manager and bridesmaid, Anjula Acharia, got a shout out from the bride for playing a key role in planning Priyanka's bridal shower on Chopra's Instagram. Carrie Goldberg, Harper's BAZAAR, "Priyanka Chopra & Nick Jonas' Wedding: Everything You Need to Know," 4 Dec. 2018 Veteran actress Lindsay Wagner plays the role of Molly's mom, Veronica, and has a long and varied resume of TV and movie credits dating back five decades. Emma Dibdin, Country Living, "Who Is Lindsay Wagner? Meet The Star of Hallmark's 'Mingle All The Way'," 1 Dec. 2018 The group has fought for climate justice, native energy, and the rights of Mother Earth and has played a large role in the fight for Standing Rock. Maka Monture, Teen Vogue, "10 Native Activism Organizations to Show Your Support This Thanksgiving," 22 Nov. 2018 The need for a larger bathroom may have sparked this ambitious remodel, but the kitchen also played a defining role. Nick Sullivan, ELLE Decor, "A Snug New York Bachelor Pad Is Morphed Into a Swank and Spacious Home," 20 Nov. 2018 The property has stayed with the same family since the 1940s, and has played the role of a restaurant, wedding venue, and event space over the generations. Maggie Burch, House Beautiful, "This Sprawling House In Texas Now Houses A Gorgeous Restaurant," 20 Nov. 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

12 Dec 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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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 Encyclopedia article about play

Comments on play

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