\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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

For much of the 20th century, the road to Broadway ran through Boston, where savvy audiences at the Colonial, the Shubert, or the Wilbur routinely got the chance to pass judgment on new musicals and plays before New York ever laid eyes on them. Don Aucoin,, "A comeback role for Boston theaters?," 14 July 2018 The children's entertainment company posted a Facebook message offering parents the chance to pay a child's age for 30 minutes of unlimited game play on Friday, July 13. Dana Burke, Houston Chronicle, "Chuck E. Cheese's calls out Build-A-Bear in new promotion," 13 July 2018 The other was just to make the course relevant for championship play. George Stoia, Detroit Free Press, "Oakland Hills to seek major tournaments after South Course renovations," 13 July 2018 The @OU_Baseball commit turned in this game-saving play in today's @USABaseball #TOS18 game. Brian Gosset, star-telegram, "HR Derby, all-star game at Wrigley Field next up for local star, potential No. 1 draft pick," 13 July 2018 The hard cap comes into play when a team above the cap uses one of its exceptions — mid-level or bi-annual — to sign a player and the Bucks are using both this summer to bring in Ilyasova and Lopez. Matt Velazquez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Jabari Parker nearing offer sheet deal with Chicago Bulls," 13 July 2018 The tune leads the July 14-dated list, spurred by a big 27 percent surge in plays in the week ending July 8, according to Nielsen Music. Trevor Anderson, Billboard, "Ella Mai's 'Boo'd Up' Hits No. 1 on Adult R&B Songs Chart," 13 July 2018 This is exactly the kind of play that belongs there. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Mary Page Marlowe': Theater Review," 13 July 2018 Like Golden State’s unexpected play for DeMarcus Cousins, this signing works because Denver’s worst-case scenario is a clean break should Thomas struggle with his health or role. Ben Golliver,, "Grades: Isaiah Thomas Can Rejuvenate Career in Nuggets' Low-Risk Gamble," 13 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In March, when the Croatian team came to play Peru in Hard Rock Stadium, Grgas’s club held a dinner for it. Dave Hyde,, "Hyde: Will the World Cup and morning TV end with a Croatian surprise? | Commentary," 14 July 2018 Westcott, a 26-year-old right-hander in his fourth pro season, was selected to play in the game for the first time. Steve Millar, Daily Southtown, "Carried by Trey: Fulton’s two hits lead the way for Joliet Slammers in Frontier League All-Star Game," 14 July 2018 LaVar Ball, who started the league this year for pro hopefuls who didn't want to play in college, frequently smiled while watching the game from his court side seat. Josh Peter, USA TODAY, "LiAngelo Ball scored 53 points, LaMelo Ball has triple double for LA Ballers in JBA game," 13 July 2018 Kohan said leaders at ASMI, the state's flagship seafood advocacy group, have been wondering what role the tariffs would play in their industry since they were officially announced June 15. Author: Elwood Brehmer, Anchorage Daily News, "Some Alaska seafood exports escape China’s retaliatory tariffs," 13 July 2018 As kids, many of us wanted to play dress up, put makeup on and do the whole ten-yards in terms of getting glammed up. Helena Yeung, Teen Vogue, "10-Year-Old Girl Makes Clay Nails After Not Being Allowed to Wear Press-Ons," 12 July 2018 That Borrego wants to play more up-tempo might help Kidd-Gilchrist score a little more. Rick Bonnell, charlotteobserver, "Your Charlotte Hornets questions on salary cap, Cody Zeller, Tony Parker and more," 12 July 2018 Eastern played particularly well late last season, and his focus has turned to building on his performance to benefit the Boilermakers. Michael Osipoff, Post-Tribune, "Evanston grad Nojel Eastern 'living in the moment' at Purdue after NBA draft process," 14 July 2018 Barrios played in three of Colombia's games at the World Cup, including the full 120 minutes of the last 16 defeat to England., "Colombian Midfielder Wilmar Barrios Coy on Future as He Responds to Tottenham Links," 13 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about play

Dictionary Entries near play






play about


Statistics for play

Last Updated

17 Oct 2018

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


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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


required by fashion, etiquette, or custom

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!