1. a dramatic composition or piece; drama.
  2. a dramatic performance, as on the stage.
  3. exercise or activity for amusement or recreation.
  4. fun or jest, as opposed to seriousness: I said it merely in play.
  5. a pun.
  6. the playing, action, or conduct of a game: The pitcher was replaced in the fourth inning of play.
  7. the manner or style of playing or of doing something: We admired his fine play throughout the game.
  8. an act or instance of playing or of doing something: a stupid play that cost us the match.
  9. one’s turn to play: Whose play is it?
  10. a playing for stakes; gambling.
  11. an attempt to accomplish something, often in a manner showing craft or calculation; maneuver: They tried to buy up the stock in a takeover play.
  12. an enterprise or venture; deal: an oil and drilling play.
  13. action, conduct, or dealing of a specified kind: fair play; foul play.
  14. action, activity, or operation: the play of fancy.
  15. brisk, light, or changing movement or action: a fountain with a leaping play of water.
  16. elusive change or movement, as of light or colors: the play of a searchlight against the night sky.
  17. a space in which something, as a part of a mechanism, can move.
  18. freedom of movement within a space, as of a part of a mechanism.
  19. freedom for action, or scope for activity: full play of the mind.
  20. attention in the press or other media; coverage; dissemination as news: The birth of the panda got a big play in the papers.
  21. an act or instance of being broadcast: The governor’s speech got two plays on our local station.

verb (used with object)

  1. to act the part of (a person or character) in a dramatic performance; portray: to play Lady Macbeth.
  2. to perform (a drama, pantomime, etc.) on or as if on the stage.
  3. to act or sustain (a part) in a dramatic performance or in real life: to play the role of benefactor.
  4. to act the part or character of in real life: to play the fool; to play God.
  5. to give performances in, as a theatrical company does: to play the larger cities.
  6. to engage in (a game, pastime, etc.).
  7. to contend against in a game.
  8. to function or perform as (a specified player) in a game or competition: He usually plays left end.
  9. to employ (a piece of equipment, a player, etc.) in a game: I played my highest card.
  10. to use as if in playing a game, as for one’s own advantage: He played his brothers against each other.
  11. to stake or wager, as in a game.
  12. to lay a wager or wagers on (something).
  13. to represent or imitate, as for recreation or in jest: to play cowboys and Indians.
  14. to perform on (a musical instrument).
  15. to perform (music) on an instrument.
  16. to cause (a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to produce sound or pictures: to play a tape; to play the radio.
  17. to do or perform: You shouldn’t play tricks. Compromise plays an important part in marriage.
  18. to carry or put into operation; act upon: to play a hunch.
  19. to cause to move or change lightly or quickly: to play colored lights on a fountain.
  20. to operate or cause to operate, especially continuously or with repeated action: to play a hose on a fire.
  21. to allow (a hooked fish) to exhaust itself by pulling on the line.
  22. to display or feature (a news story, photograph, etc.), especially prominently: Play the flood photos on page one.
  23. to exploit or trade in (an investment, business opportunity, stock, etc.).

verb (used without object)

  1. to exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
  2. to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously.
  3. to amuse oneself; toy; trifle (often followed by with).
  4. to take part or engage in a game.
  5. to take part in a game for stakes; gamble.
  6. to conduct oneself or act in a specified way: to play fair.
  7. to act on or as if on the stage; perform.
  8. to perform on a musical instrument.
  9. (of an instrument or music) to sound in performance: The strings are playing well this evening.
  10. (of a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to give forth sound: The radio played all night.
  11. to be performed or shown: What’s playing at the movie theater around the corner?
  12. to be capable of or suitable for performance, as a television or dramatic script: We hope this scene will play well.
  13. Informal. to be accepted or effective; fare: How will the senator’s proposal play with the public?
  14. to move freely within a space, as a part of a mechanism.
  15. to move about lightly or quickly: The water of the fountain played in the air.
  16. to present the effect of such motion, as light or the changing colors of an iridescent substance: The lights played strangely over the faces of the actors.
  17. to operate continuously or with repeated action.
  18. Informal. to comply or cooperate: They wanted her to tell them what she knew about the plans, but she refused to play.

Verb Phrases

  1. play along,
    1. to cooperate or concur; go along.
    2. to pretend to cooperate or concur.
  2. play around, Informal.
    1. to behave in a playful or frivolous manner; fool around.
    2. to be sexually promiscuous.
    3. to be sexually unfaithful.
  3. play at,
    1. to pretend interest in: It’s obvious that you’re just playing at fishing for my sake.
    2. to do something without seriousness: He is merely playing at being a student.
  4. play back, to play (a recording, especially one newly made): Play it back and let’s hear how I sound.
  5. play down, to treat as of little importance; belittle: He has consistently played down his own part in the successful enterprise.
  6. play off,
    1. play an extra game or round in order to settle a tie.
    2. engage in an elimination game or games after the regular season is over in order to determine the champion.
    3. to set (one person or thing) against another, usually for one’s own gain or advantage: The children could usually get what they wanted by playing one parent off against the other.
  7. play on/upon, to exploit, as the feelings or weaknesses of another; take selfish advantage of: She would never think of playing on the good nature of others.
  8. play out,
    1. to bring to an end; finish.
    2. to use up; exhaust: to play out one’s supplies.
    3. to reel or pay out, as a rope, line, etc.
  9. play up, to emphasize the importance of; highlight or publicize: The schools are playing up their science programs.


  1. bring into play, to put into motion; cause to be introduced: New evidence has been brought into play in this trial.
  2. come to play, Informal. to be disposed to play or participate in a manner reflecting a determination to win or succeed: We’re a small new business, but we came to play.
  3. in/out of play, in or not in the state of being played during a game: The umpire says the ball was not in play.
  4. make a play for, Informal.
    1. to try to attract, especially sexually: He made a play for his friend’s girlfriend.
    2. to attempt to gain by impressing favorably: This ad will make a play for new consumer markets.
  5. play ball. ball1(def 25).
  6. play both ends against the middle, to maneuver opposing groups in order to benefit oneself.
  7. play by ear, to play (music or a musical instrument) without printed music, as by memory of what one has heard or by unschooled musical instinct.
  8. played out,
    1. exhausted; weary.
    2. out of fashion; hackneyed: New styles in clothing are soon played out in New York.
    3. used up; finished: The original tires were played out and had to be replaced.
  9. play fast and loose, to act in an irresponsible or inconsiderate manner, especially to employ deception to gain one’s ends: to play fast and loose with someone’s affections.
  10. play for time, to prolong something in order to gain an advantage; forestall an event or decision: Their maneuvering at the conference was obviously calculated to play for time.
  11. play hardball. hardball(def 4).
  12. play into the hands of, to act in such a way as to give an advantage to (someone, especially an opponent): If you lose your temper when he insults you, you will be playing right into his hands.Also play into (someone’s) hands.
  13. play it by ear, to improvise, especially in a challenging situation when confronted by unknown factors: If you can’t come up with a plan, we’ll just have to play it by ear.
  14. play it safe, to act cautiously; avoid risk or danger: She usually plays it safe on the red carpet, wearing simple, classic designs.Also play safe.
  15. play one’s cards. card1(def 22).
  16. play politics. politics(def 8).
  17. play possum. possum(def 3).
  18. play second fiddle. second fiddle(def 1).
  19. play the field. field(def 39).
  20. play the game. game1(def 27).
  21. play up to, Informal. to attempt to impress in order to gain someone’s favor: Students who too obviously play up to their teachers are usually disliked by their classmates.
  22. play with a full deck. deck(def 23).
  23. play with fire. fire(def 54).
  24. play with oneself, Informal. to masturbate.


  1. belonging to a team, group, etc, but not participating in their pursuitappointed nonplaying captain


  1. to occupy oneself in (a sport or diversion); amuse oneself in (a game)
  2. (tr) to contend against (an opponent) in a sport or gameEd played Tony at chess and lost
  3. to fulfil or cause to fulfil (a particular role) in a team gamehe plays defence; he plays in the defence
  4. (tr) to address oneself to (a ball) in a gameplay the ball not the man
  5. (intr; often foll by about or around) to behave carelessly, esp in a way that is unconsciously cruel or hurtful; trifle or dally (with)to play about with a young girl’s affections
  6. (when intr, often foll by at) to perform or act the part (of) in or as in a dramatic production; assume or simulate the role (of)to play the villain; just what are you playing at?
  7. to act out or perform (a dramatic production)
  8. to give a performance in (a place) or (of a performance) to be given in a place
  9. (intr) to be receivedHow will these policies play in Middle England?
  10. to have the ability to perform on (a musical instrument)David plays the harp
  11. to perform (on a musical instrument) as specifiedhe plays out of tune
  12. (tr)
    1. to reproduce (a tune, melody, piece of music, note, etc) on an instrument
    2. to perform works by (a specific composer)to play Brahms
  13. to discharge or cause to dischargehe played the water from the hose onto the garden
  14. to operate, esp to cause (a record player, radio, etc) to emit sound or (of a record player, radio, etc) to emit (sound)he played a record; the radio was playing loudly
  15. to move or cause to move freely, quickly, or irregularlylights played on the scenery
  16. (tr) stock exchange to speculate or operate aggressively for gain in (a market)
  17. (tr) angling to attempt to tire (a hooked fish) by alternately letting out and reeling in line and by using the rod’s flexibility
  18. to put (a card, counter, piece, etc) into play
  19. to gamble (money) on a game
  20. play ball informal to cooperate
  21. play fair or play fair with someone to prove oneself fair in one’s dealings
  22. play false or play fair with someone to prove oneself unfair in one’s dealings
  23. play by ear See ear 1 (def. 19)
  24. play for time to delay the outcome of some activity so as to gain time to one’s own advantage
  25. play into the hands of to act directly to the advantage of (an opponent)
  26. play the fool See fool 1 (def. 7)
  27. play the game See game 1 (def. 22)


  1. a dramatic composition written for performance by actors on a stage, on television, etc; drama
    1. the performance of a dramatic composition
    2. (in combination)playreader
    1. games, exercise, or other activity undertaken for pleasure, diversion, etc, esp by children
    2. (in combination)playroom
    3. (as modifier)play dough
  2. manner of action, conduct, or playingfair play
  3. the playing or conduct of a game or the period during which a game is in progressrain stopped play
  4. US and Canadian a move or manoeuvre in a gamea brilliant play
  5. the situation of a ball that is within the defined area and being played according to the rules (in the phrases in play, out of play)
  6. a turn to playit’s my play
  7. the act of playing for stakes; gambling
  8. action, activity, or operationthe play of the imagination
  9. freedom of or scope or space for movementtoo much play in the rope
  10. light, free, or rapidly shifting motionthe play of light on the water
  11. fun, jest, or jokingI only did it in play
  12. call into play to bring into operation
  13. make a play for informal
    1. to make an obvious attempt to gain
    2. to attempt to attract or seduce

v.Old English plegan, plegian “move rapidly, occupy or busy oneself, exercise; frolic; make sport of, mock; perform music,” from West Germanic *plegan “occupy oneself about” (cf. Old Saxon plegan “vouch for, take charge of,” Old Frisian plega “tend to,” Middle Dutch pleyen “to rejoice, be glad,” German pflegen “take care of, cultivate”), from PIE root *dlegh- “to engage oneself,” forming words in Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and possibly Latin. Meaning “to take part in a game” is from c.1200. Opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Related: Played; playing. To play up “emphasize” is from 1909; to play down “minimize” is from 1930; to play along “cooperate” is from 1929. To play with oneself “masturbate” is from 1896; play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children’s games with tokens. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 (“Gil Blas”). To play into the hands (of someone) is from 1705. To play the _______ card is attested from 1886; to play fair is from mid-15c. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. For play the field see field (n.). n.Old English plega (West Saxon), plæga (Anglian) “quick motion; recreation, exercise, any brisk activity” (the latter sense preserved in swordplay, etc.), from or related to Old English plegan (see play (v.)). Meaning “dramatic performance” is attested by early 14c., perhaps late Old English. Meaning “free or unimpeded movement” of mechanisms, etc., is from c.1200. By early Middle English it could mean variously, “a game, a martial sport, activity of children, joke or jesting, revelry, sexual indulgence.” Sporting sense “the playing of a game” first attested mid-15c.; sense of “specific maneuver or attempt” is from 1868. To be in play (of a hit ball, etc.) is from 1788. Play-by-play is attested from 1927. Play on words is from 1798. Play-money is attested from 1705 as “money won in gambling,” by 1920 as “pretend money.” In addition to the idioms beginning with play

  • play along
  • play a losing game
  • play around
  • play at
  • play a waiting game
  • play back
  • play ball
  • play both ends against the middle
  • play by ear
  • play cat and mouse
  • play down
  • played out
  • play fair
  • play false
  • play fast and loose
  • play footsie
  • play for
  • play for keeps
  • play for laughs
  • play for time
  • play games
  • play hardball
  • play hard to get
  • play havoc
  • play hide and seek
  • play hooky
  • play in Peoria
  • play into the hands of
  • play it close to one’s chest
  • play it cool
  • play it safe
  • play musical chairs
  • play off
  • play on
  • play one’s cards close to one’s chest
  • play one’s cards right
  • play one’s trump card
  • play on words
  • play out
  • play politics
  • play possum
  • play safe
  • play second fiddle
  • play the devil with
  • play the field
  • play the fool
  • play the game
  • play the heavy
  • play the market
  • play to the gallery
  • play up
  • play upon
  • play up to
  • play with fire
  • also see:

  • all work and no play
  • child’s play
  • devil’s advocate, play
  • fair play
  • foul play
  • game that two can play
  • grandstand play
  • in play
  • make a play for
  • musical chairs, play
  • squeeze play
  • trump card, play one’s
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