Meaning of PLAY in English


I. play 1 S1 W1 /pleɪ/ BrE AmE verb

[ Word Family: noun : ↑ play , ↑ interplay , ↑ replay , ↑ player , ↑ playfulness ; verb : ↑ play , ↑ outplay , ↑ replay ; adjective : ↑ playful , ↑ playable ; adverb : ↑ playfully ]

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: plegan ]

1 . CHILDREN [intransitive and transitive] when children play, they do things that they enjoy, often with other people or with toys:

Kids were playing and chasing each other.

play catch/house/tag/school etc

Outside, the children were playing cowboys and Indians.

play with

Did you like to play with dolls when you were little?

Parents need to spend time just playing with their children.


a) [intransitive and transitive] to take part or compete in a game or sport:

Karen began playing basketball when she was six.

If you feel any pain, you shouldn’t play.

Men were sitting in the park, playing cards.

play against

Bristol will play against Coventry next week.

She’s playing Helen Evans in the semi-final (=playing against her) .

play for

Moxon played for England in ten test matches.

b) [transitive] to use a particular piece, card, person etc in a game or sport:

Harrison played a ten of spades.

The Regents played Eddie at center (=used him as a player in that position) in the game against Arizona.

c) [intransitive and transitive] to take a particular position on a team:

Garvey played first base for the Dodgers.

d) [transitive] to hit a ball in a particular way or to a particular place in a game or sport:

She played the ball low, just over the net.

3 .

MUSIC [intransitive and transitive]

to perform a piece of music on a musical instrument:

He’s learning to play the piano.

She played a Bach prelude.

Haden has played with many jazz greats.

A small orchestra was playing.

4 . RADIO/CD ETC [intransitive and transitive] if a radio, CD etc plays, or if you play it, it produces sound, especially music:

The bedside radio played softly.

play a record/CD/tape etc

DJs playing the latest house and techno tracks


a) [transitive] to perform the actions and say the words of a particular character in a theatre performance, film etc:

Streep plays a shy, nervous woman.

play a role/part/character etc

Playing a character so different from herself was a challenge.

b) [intransitive] if a play or film is playing at a particular theatre, it is being performed or shown there:

‘Macbeth’ is playing at the Theatre Royal in York.

c) [transitive] if actors play a theatre, they perform there in a play

6 . play a part/role to have an effect or influence on something

play a part/role in

A good diet and fitness play a large part in helping people live longer.

7 . play ball

a) to throw, kick, hit, or catch a ball as a game or activity:

Jim and Karl were playing ball in the backyard.

b) to do what someone wants you to do:

So far, the company has refused to play ball, preferring to remain independent.

8 . PRETEND [linking verb] to behave as if you are a particular kind of person or have a particular feeling or quality, even though it is not true:

the accusation that scientists are playing God

Some snakes fool predators by playing dead.

‘What do you mean?’ ‘Don’t play dumb (=pretend you do not know something) .'

Don’t play the innocent (=pretend you do not know about something) with me – we both know what happened.

play the idiot/the teacher etc

Susan felt she had to play the good wife.

He played the fool (=behaved in a silly way) at school instead of working.

9 . BEHAVE [transitive always + adverb/preposition] to behave in a particular way in a situation, in order to achieve the result or effect that you want:

How do you want to play this meeting?

Play it safe (=avoid risks) and make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked.

play it carefully/cool etc

If you like him, play it cool, or you might scare him off.

10 . play games to hide your real feelings or wishes in order to achieve something in a clever or secret way – used to show disapproval:

Stop playing games, Luke, and tell me what you want.

11 . play something by ear

a) to decide what to do according to the way a situation develops, without making plans before that time:

We’ll see what the weather’s like and play it by ear.

b) if someone can play a musical instrument by ear, they can play a tune without looking at written music

12 . play a joke/trick/prank on somebody to do something to someone as a joke or trick

13 . play the game

a) to do things in the way you are expected to do them or in a way that is usual in a particular situation:

If you want a promotion, you’ve got to play the game.

b) British English to behave in a fair and honest way

14 . play the race/nationalist/environmentalist etc card to use a particular subject in politics in order to gain an advantage:

a leader who is skilfully playing the nationalist card to keep power

15 . play your cards right to say or do things in a situation in such a way that you gain as much as possible from it:

Who knows? If you play your cards right, maybe he’ll marry you.

16 . play your cards close to your chest to keep secret what you are doing in a situation

17 . play into sb’s hands to do what someone you are competing with wants you to do, without realizing it:

If we respond with violence, we’ll be playing into their hands, giving them an excuse for a fight.

18 . play for time to try to delay something so that you have more time to prepare for it or prevent it from happening:

The rebels may be playing for time while they try to get more weapons.

19 . play tricks (on you) if your mind, memory, sight etc plays tricks on you, you feel confused and not sure about what is happening:

It happened a long time ago, and my memory might be playing tricks on me.

20 . play the market to risk money on the ↑ stock market as a way of trying to earn more money

21 . play the system to use the rules of a system in a clever way, to gain advantage for yourself:

Accountants know how to play the tax system.

22 . play second fiddle (to somebody) to be in a lower position or rank than someone else

23 . play hard to get to pretend that you are not sexually interested in someone so that they will become more interested in you

24 . SMILE [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written if a smile plays about someone’s lips, they smile slightly

25 . play hooky American English , play truant British English to stay away from school without permission

26 . play with fire to do something that could have a very dangerous or harmful result:

Dating the boss’s daughter is playing with fire.

27 . play to your strengths to do what you are able to do well, rather than trying to do other things:

It is up to us to play to our strengths and try to control the game.

28 . LIGHT [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written if light plays on something, it shines on it and moves on it:

the sunlight playing on the water

29 . WATER [intransitive] written if a ↑ fountain plays, water comes from it

30 . play a hose/light on something to point a ↑ hose or light towards something so that water or light goes onto it

31 . play the field to have sexual relationships with a lot of different people

32 . play fast and loose with something to not be careful about what you do, especially by not obeying the law or a rule:

They played fast and loose with investors’ money.

33 . play happy families British English to spend time with your family, doing normal things, especially so that your family appears to be happy when it is not

play around ( also play about British English ) phrasal verb

1 . to have a sexual relationship with someone who is not your usual partner

play around with

Wasn’t she playing around with another man?

It was years before I realized he’d been playing around.

2 . to try doing something in different ways, to see what would be best, especially when this is fun

play around with

Play around with the ingredients if you like.

3 . to behave in a silly way or waste time, when you should be doing something more serious SYN fool around :

When the teacher wasn’t looking, we used to play about a lot.

play around with something ( also play about with something British English ) phrasal verb

to keep moving or making changes to something in your hands SYN fiddle with :

Will you stop playing around with the remote control!

play along phrasal verb

1 . to pretend to agree to do what someone wants, in order to avoid annoying them or to get an advantage:

She felt she had to play along or risk losing her job.

2 . play somebody along British English to tell someone something that is not true because you need their help in some way

play at something phrasal verb

1 . What is somebody playing at? British English spoken used when you do not understand what someone is doing or why they are doing it, and you are surprised or annoyed:

What do you think you’re playing at?

2 . if you play at doing something, you do not do it properly or seriously

play at doing something

He’s still playing at being an artist.

3 . British English if children play at doctors, soldiers etc, they pretend to be doctors, soldiers etc

play at being something

a 14-year-old playing at being a grown woman

play something ↔ back phrasal verb

to play something that has been recorded on a machine so that you can listen to it or watch it:

He played back his answering machine messages.

play something ↔ down phrasal verb

to try to make something seem less important or less likely than it really is:

Management has been playing down the possibility of job losses.

play down the importance/seriousness/significance of something

The White House spokeswoman sought to play down the significance of the event.

play off phrasal verb

1 . British English if people or teams play off, they play the last game in a sports competition, in order to decide who is the winner:

The top two teams will play off at Twickenham for the county title.

2 . play off somebody/something American English to deliberately use a fact, action, idea etc in order to make what you are doing better or to get an advantage:

The two musicians played off each other in a piece of inspired improvisation.

play somebody off against somebody phrasal verb

to encourage one person or group to compete or argue with another, in order to get some advantage for yourself:

The house seller may try to play one buyer off against another, to raise the price.

play on/upon something phrasal verb

to use a feeling, fact, or idea in order to get what you want, often in an unfair way:

The ad plays on our emotions, showing a doctor holding a newborn baby.

play something ↔ out phrasal verb

1 . if an event or situation is played out or plays itself out, it happens:

It will be interesting to see how the election plays itself out.

2 . if people play out their dreams, feelings etc, they express them by pretending that a particular situation is really happening:

The weekend gives you a chance to play out your fantasies.

play up phrasal verb

1 . play something ↔ up to emphasize something, sometimes making it seem more important than it really is:

Play up your strongest arguments in the opening paragraph.

2 . play (somebody) up British English informal if children play up, they behave badly:

Jordan’s been playing up in school.

I hope the kids don’t play you up.

3 . play (somebody) up British English informal to hurt you or cause problems for you:

My knee’s been playing me up this week.

The car’s playing up again.

play up to somebody phrasal verb

to behave in a very polite or kind way to someone because you want something from them:

Connie always plays up to her parents when she wants money.

play with somebody/something phrasal verb

1 . to keep touching something or moving it:

Stop playing with the light switch!

2 . to try doing something in different ways to decide what works best:

Play with the design onscreen, moving text and pictures until you get a pleasing arrangement.

3 . to consider an idea or possibility, but not always very seriously SYN toy with :

After university, I played with the idea of teaching English in China.

4 . money/time/space etc to play with money, time etc that is available to be used:

The budget is very tight, so there isn’t much money to play with.

5 . play with yourself to touch your own sex organs for pleasure SYN masturbate

6 . play with words/language to use words in a clever or amusing way

II. play 2 S1 W2 BrE AmE noun

[ Word Family: noun : ↑ play , ↑ interplay , ↑ replay , ↑ player , ↑ playfulness ; verb : ↑ play , ↑ outplay , ↑ replay ; adjective : ↑ playful , ↑ playable ; adverb : ↑ playfully ]

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: plega ]

1 . THEATRE [countable] a story that is written to be performed by actors, especially in a theatre:

a play by Chekhov

This is a major theme of Miller’s plays.

play about

Edward Bond’s play about class war

2 . AMUSEMENT [uncountable] things that people, especially children, do for amusement rather than as work:

Play is very important to a child’s development.

a play area

through play

The program aims to teach road safety through play.

at play

the happy shouts of children at play

3 . EFFECT [uncountable] the effect or influence of something:

the free play of competition in the building industry

at play

There are a number of factors at play (=having an effect) in the current recession.

bring/put something into play (=use something or make it have an effect)

A complex system of muscles is brought into play for each body movement.

Political considerations do come into play (=have an effect) when making policy.


a) [uncountable] the actions of the people who are playing a game or sport:

Rain stopped play after only an hour.

b) [countable] one particular action or set of actions during a game:

On the next play, Johnson ran 15 yards for a touchdown.

5 . in play/out of play if a ball is in play or out of play, it is inside or outside the area in which the rules of the game allow you to hit, kick, catch etc the ball:

He kicked the ball out of play.

6 . play on words a use of a word that is interesting or amusing because it can be understood as having two very different meanings SYN pun

7 . play of light patterns made by light as it moves over a surface:

the play of light on the water

8 . make a play for something to make an attempt to gain something:

He made a play for the leadership last year.

9 . make a play for somebody to try to begin a romantic or sexual relationship with someone:

It’s obvious he was making a play for her.

10 . LOOSENESS [uncountable] if there is some play in something, it is loose and can be moved:

There’s too much play in the rope.

⇨ ↑ fair play , ↑ foul play

• • •


■ verbs

▪ write a play

So far, he has written three plays.

▪ go to (see) a play

While we were in New York, we went to a play.

▪ see a play

I’ve never seen the play.

▪ watch a play

Some of the audience were talking instead of watching the play.

▪ perform a play

The play was performed by Brighton Youth Theatre.

▪ act/perform/appear in a play

She acted in many plays on the London stage.

▪ be in a play (=be performing in a play)

Michael is currently in a play on Broadway.

▪ do a play spoken (=arrange it or perform in it)

Bob asked if I would do this play, and I agreed.

▪ put on a play (=arrange for it to be performed)

The school puts on a Nativity play every Christmas.

▪ direct a play (=tell the actors what to do)

The play is directed by Paulette Randall.

▪ produce/stage a play (=arrange its performance)

▪ rehearse a play (=practise it)

We spent weeks rehearsing the play.

▪ a play opens (=its performances start)

The play opens in San Francisco on Wednesday for a three-week run.

▪ a play runs (=it continues to be performed)

The play ran for five months.

▪ a play closes (=its performances stop)

The play closes on Sunday, so don’t miss it!


▪ a stage play (=a play in a theatre)

I occasionally write reviews of local stage plays.

▪ a TV/radio play (=a play written to be performed on TV/radio)

This horror story would make a good radio play.

▪ a school play

I got a small part in the school play.

▪ a Nativity play British English (=a play about the birth of Jesus, performed by children at Christmas)

She was chosen to play Mary in the nativity play.


► Do not say ' give a play '. Say put on a play .

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.