play

noun
\ ˈplā How to pronounce play (audio) \

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
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

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 play (audio) \ noun
playable \ ˈplā-​ə-​bəl How to pronounce play (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 In that sense, the book’s title makes for an instructive play on words. David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Where Malcolm X meets the Marquis de Sade: Olivia Laing’s intense new essays on freedom," 6 May 2021 When play stopped with 2:26 to go, a heated exchange occurred between Foster and Bitadze, with Myles Turner having to hold Foster back. J. Michael, The Indianapolis Star, "What we know about the Pacers, Nate Bjorkgren and T.J. Warren," 6 May 2021 Marriotts Ridge went undefeated in county play to win the league title. Jacob Calvin Meyer, baltimoresun.com, "Howard County 2021 boys lacrosse preview," 6 May 2021 If a brand doesn’t have a 3D or virtual strategy in play good luck. Cathy Hackl, Forbes, "Meet Neuno’s Natalie Johnson, One Of The Female Leaders Revolutionizing Fashion & Luxury In The Metaverse," 6 May 2021 Week 3 took Southridge to Portland for nonleague play against Cleveland. oregonlive, "Canby’s pitchers excel in the circle and at the plate: Week 3 in Oregon high school softball," 6 May 2021 Finally, when play stopped with 2:26 to go, a heated exchange between the two occurred and another player intervened to prevent it from escalating. BostonGlobe.com, "Essential Quality and Mandaloun won’t run in the Preakness," 6 May 2021 The team made a remarkable turnaround and got hot during tournament play to win the championship by defeating the Freestylers 2-1. Emmett Hall, sun-sentinel.com, "Musketeers claim Tamarac U12 soccer title," 6 May 2021 Harbaugh also complimented the play of Dunlap, a former three-star recruit from Texas, and hinted at the possibility of Dunlap playing as a true freshman. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football's running back depth chart: Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum at top, for now," 6 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The strong revenue growth that Activision has been witnessing over the recent years can primarily be attributed to its free-to-play offerings across mobile, PC and console. Trefis Team, Forbes, "What Activision Blizzard’s Q1 Results Say About Its Stock?," 6 May 2021 If Finite Carbon’s offsets are deemed eligible by the Washington Department of Ecology, tasked with designing the standards for the new offsets, BP could theoretically play both sides of the carbon accounting ledger. Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, "BP’s Suspicious Support for a Carbon Market in Washington State," 6 May 2021 Lundt will play with Phoenix Rising FC of the USL Championship, which is one of the more prominent clubs in the second-division league. Pat Brennan, The Enquirer, "FC Cincinnati: Goalkeeper Ben Lundt bound for Phoenix Rising FC loan," 6 May 2021 The role nurse burnout and fatigue can play in patients' health is considerable. NBC News, "Nurse burnout remains a serious problem, putting patients in danger, experts say," 6 May 2021 For the first five games, each squad will play every other team in its division once. Jacob Calvin Meyer, baltimoresun.com, "Howard County 2021 boys lacrosse preview," 6 May 2021 This is a complete restructuring of the role played by traditional journalism and wine publications, which have always been vulnerable to perceptions that there might be pay-to-play elements in their editorial process. Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle, "Instagram's wine influencers started thriving during the pandemic. Their rise has prompted sexist backlash," 5 May 2021 That play, while dirty, occurred within the flow of the game. Vincent Z. Mercogliano, USA TODAY, "'Dereliction of duty': New York Rangers rip NHL Department of Player Safety for not suspending Tom Wilson," 4 May 2021 Lonnie Walker finished Friday’s game with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but he was also involved in a botched inbounds play in crunch time that helped doom the Spurs. Tom Orsborn, San Antonio Express-News, "'Smooth dude' DeMar DeRozan surged statistically on road," 1 May 2021

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

8 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Play.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/play. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for play

play

noun

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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Comments on play

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