play

noun
\ ˈplā How to pronounce play (audio) \

Essential Meaning of play

1 : a piece of writing that tells a story through the actions and words of characters and that is performed on a stage The play is based on a real-life event. He wrote, directed, and starred in the play. See More Examplesplays by Shakespeare His fifth grade class is putting on a play about the first Thanksgiving. I've gone to all of my daughter's school plays. She's currently adapting a stage play [=a play that is written to be performed on a stage] for the big screen.Hide
2 : activities that are done especially by children for fun or enjoyment The book discusses the role of play in a child's development. imaginative play See More ExamplesAs the saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." a safe play area the sounds of children at play [=the sounds of children playing]Hide
3 : the action that happens during a game Please, no talking during play. Rain held up play for an hour. See More ExamplesThe chess match finally ended after three hours of play. The two golfers were tied at the start of play yesterday. We were surprised with/by the other team's level/quality of play.Hide

Full 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

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Will Egbuka play at Michigan, why did Julian Fleming return kicks? Nathan Baird, cleveland, 26 Nov. 2021 The Giants signed shortstop Brandon Crawford for two more years but Semien could spell Crawford on days off and form an impressive double-play tandem with him otherwise. Matt Kawahara, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Nov. 2021 On the game’s final play, in the slop and mud, Stoneham’s Joshua Nardone tried a 40-yard field goal. Robert Holmes, BostonGlobe.com, 25 Nov. 2021 Per the tournament schedule, MSU and Loyola play Friday, with one team facing Loyola and the other facing Auburn. Tyler J. Davis, Detroit Free Press, 25 Nov. 2021 However, his play the first 19 games of the season has been quite dreadful. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, 25 Nov. 2021 For being a prevent offense, the dumbest play in football. Nick Canepa Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Nov. 2021 According to Sharp Football Stats, Pittsburgh ranks 21st in explosive-run rate, 26th in explosive-pass rate and 28th in explosive-play rate. Jonas Shaffer, baltimoresun.com, 24 Nov. 2021 Though Clint is displeased at having to role-play, Renner was more than happy to channel some of his own experiences as a Marvel superstar into the scene. Christian Holub, EW.com, 24 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Smith moves up Seeking a physical and net-front presence on the second line, Givani Smith was moved up to play with Suter and Robby Fabbri to start the game. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press, 28 Nov. 2021 The Wolverines clinched the Big Ten East and will play in the conference title game next week with playoff hopes in hand after snapping an eight-game losing streak to Ohio State. Larry Lage, ajc, 27 Nov. 2021 More than half of Te Kloese’s tenure with the Galaxy came during the pandemic, which hampered recruiting and signings while forcing the team to play many games with no fans or severely limited attendance. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 27 Nov. 2021 Some cousins are anxiously waiting to play with you, but not just yet love. Tristan Balagtas, PEOPLE.com, 26 Nov. 2021 Hang onto your hat, because Amazon didn’t come to play with its fashion deals. Talia Abbas, Glamour, 26 Nov. 2021 That’s because the Browns and Ravens play twice over that three-week span, with a Browns bye week in the middle. Scott Patsko, cleveland, 26 Nov. 2021 According to social media posts, Evangelical and Reform Church provided food and gave children toys to play with from their nursery while families hid in their building. Samantha Hendrickson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 25 Nov. 2021 Soak in the sun, take a dip in the ocean, relax while reading a book or play beach games with family and friends. Patrick Connolly, orlandosentinel.com, 24 Nov. 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.

See More

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

Buying Guide

Our team at The Usage has selected the best toys for newborns of 2021.

Learn More About play

Time Traveler for play

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near play

Plavix

play

playa

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for play

Last Updated

28 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Play.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/play. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for play

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
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 a great play by the shortstop
3 : exercise or activity for enjoyment
4 : a person's turn to take part in a game It's your play.
5 : quick or light movement the light play of a breeze
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

More from Merriam-Webster on play

Nglish: Translation of play for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of play for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about play

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!