play

noun
\ ˈplā How to pronounce play (audio) \

Definition of play

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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 makemade 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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Even so, there are political considerations at play for Beijing. Laura He, CNN, "China and India are sparring but neither can afford a full-on trade war," 3 July 2020 Lewis has been pivotal in the enfranchisement of Black Americans, who continue to experience voter suppression through tactics still at play today. Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY, "‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’: 5 lessons from the documentary that still apply today," 3 July 2020 Market forces are still at play — companies are incentivized to have the best drug so more doctors will want to prescribe it. Peter Kolchinsky, STAT, "Regeneron wasn’t paying ‘kickbacks.’ It was helping people pay egregious Medicare copays," 30 June 2020 These are big subjects at play: abandonment, homophobia, neurodiversity, and finding a sense of purpose. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, "Hot Stuff: June romances embrace the inherent sexiness of faking it," 30 June 2020 But the North/South delineation used by children at play currently stands as the likeliest source for Dixie. Ben Zimmer, The Atlantic, "What Dixie Really Means," 26 June 2020 But other factors may be at play, including large outbreaks at San Quentin and other prisons and at nursing homes. Peter Fimrite, SFChronicle.com, "Coronavirus experts say California is entering a ‘second wave’," 25 June 2020 While many people are feeling cooped up after months of coronavirus lockdowns and need to let off steam, there could also be a surge of patriotism at play, as states begin to reopen. NBC News, "Fireworks sellers thought lockdowns would kill their sales — but 2020 could be the best year ever. Just ask your neighbor.," 24 June 2020 In the case of the mysterious fireworks, then, conspiracy theories satisfy our need to believe that there is a higher, more organized power at play. Sarah Midkiff, refinery29.com, "There’s A Good Reason Fireworks Conspiracy Theories Are So Popular Right Now," 24 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The Browns had signed Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt, who was going to be eligible to play in the final eight games of 2019. Terry Pluto, cleveland, "David Njoku is demanding Cleveland Browns trade him? You gotta be kidding -- Terry Pluto," 4 July 2020 But Hazen said the team also wants its players to be ready to play in all environments. Nick Piecoro, The Arizona Republic, "Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley says family is ‘lucky’ after COVID-19 scare," 4 July 2020 The Cowboys also would have started training camp nearly two weeks earlier than most teams because they were scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame game against the Steelers. Calvin Watkins, Dallas News, "Mike McCarthy faces uniquely long list of challenges to start first season as Cowboys head coach," 3 July 2020 The problem was that a new business model (the free-to-play microtransaction model popularized by mobile games) was stacked right on top of the old premium $60 business model. Washington Post, "Next-gen games may cost $70. It’s overdue, but also worrisome.," 3 July 2020 In the end, close to two dozen athlete-experts from six countries collaborated on the sport’s return-to-play guidelines. Christie Aschwanden, Wired, "Women’s Roller Derby Has a Plan for Covid, and It Kicks Ass," 2 July 2020 Anyone over 18 can apply to play in the tournament, so there is often a mix of players. Giana Han, al, "TBT Team War Tampa represents Auburn in first basketball since March," 30 June 2020 According to the Phase 1 of the GCCS return-to-play guidelines from July 6-19, athletes are limited to 15 hours per week on campus. David J. Kim, The Courier-Journal, "There's hope for fall sports in Indiana as Greater Clark County Schools release guidelines," 25 June 2020 Capcom's Puzzle Fighter came back to life on smartphones as a free-to-play gacha mess. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "You should play Namco’s lost arcade-action classic, Mr. Driller DrillLand," 25 June 2020

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

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

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Learn More about play

Time Traveler for play

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for play

Last Updated

6 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Play.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/play. Accessed 11 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for play

play

noun
How to pronounce play (audio)

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on play

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for play

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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

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