Meaning of PLAY in English


I. ˈplā noun

( -s )

Usage: often attributive

Etymology: Middle English play, pley, from Old English plega; akin to Old English plegan to play, Middle Dutch pleyen, playen to frolic, play


a. : an act of briskly handling, using, or plying a sword or other weapon or instrument

a duelist famous for his brilliant play

indiscriminate gun play in the streets — Green Peyton


(1) archaic : a particular amusement : game , sport

(2) : the conduct or carrying on of a game : the course of a game

rain interfered with play

talking during play may be distracting

(3) : a particular act, maneuver, or point in a game

relied mostly on running plays — G.S.Halas

: manner or trick of playing

his play is excellent

: turn to play

it's your play

(4) : the action between two downs in football

(5) : the action in which cards are played after bidding in a card game


(1) obsolete : sexual intercourse

(2) : exchange of caresses in or as if in preparation for sexual intercourse : dalliance

sexual play


(1) : recreational activity : frolic , sport ; especially : the spontaneous or organized recreational activity of children

in cooperative play children learn adjustments in a social group — Gertrude H. Hildreth

(2) : jest , fun — usually used in the phrase in play

said it in play , not in earnest

(3) : the act or an instance of playing upon words or speech sounds especially to achieve a humorous or rhetorical effect (as in punning)

the title of this address is an obvious play upon the original meaning … of the term philosophy — C.W.Berenda

take a familiar line of verse and turn it into a poem with an ironic play upon the original — Oscar Cargill

— usually used in the phrases play of words or play on words

e. : gambling , gaming

lose a fortune in play

f. chiefly dialect

(1) : holiday

(2) : fair , wake



(1) : an act, way, method, or manner of proceeding : maneuver , move

the play was … to maintain the balance — S.H.Adams

that was a play to get your fingerprints — Erle Stanley Gardner

the play fell flat — Atlantic

a very bad place for that kind of play — Raymond Chandler

(2) : deal , venture

land available for any company … looking for a land play — Edmonton (Alberta) Journal

in this big oil play , there are more than eighty drilling rigs — Time


(1) : operation , employment

discouraged from the normal play of their talents — Gilbert Seldes

his sense of humor was in play — R.M.Lovett

other motives surely come into play — M.R.Cohen

a program of reaction was put into full play — C.L.Jones

he is above the play of party — Ernest Barker

(2) : brisk, lively, or light activity involving change, variation, transition, or alternation : dynamic activity

the play of a supremely fine and penetrating intelligence — F.R.Leavis

accustomed to make their phrases a play of wit — George Meredith

(3) : brisk, fitful, or light movement of something physical : movement marked by alternation or sudden transition

the play of light and shadow on the dancing waves

the gem presented a dazzling play of colors

the play of a gusty wind — Amy Lowell

play of surf is most spectacular on stormy days — American Guide Series: Maine

(4) : free or unimpeded motion (as of a part of a machine)

this type of universal joint permits shaft end play — Joseph Heitner

also : the length or measure of such motion

the cylinder has about an inch of play

(5) : scope or opportunity for action

found ample play for this avocation in surrounding marshes — American Guide Series: Louisiana

the position gave much play to his notable talents


(1) : temporary attention, interest, or patronage

took the play away from puppets on television — Thomas Whiteside

time was heavy on their hands and they were giving the … casino a great play — C.B.Davis

(2) : emphasis or publicity especially in public media of communication

got very little play here the next day — E.J.Kahn

official propaganda gives a heavy play to impressive statistics — New Republic

wish the country received a better play in the American press — Hugh MacLennan

(3) : a move or series of moves calculated to arouse affection, sympathy, or friendly feelings — usually used with make

quit making a play for him — James Jones

made a big play for the girl — Will Herman

since the … audience has the votes, it is best to make your play for them — B.N.Cardozo


a. : the representation or exhibition of some action or story on the stage or in some other medium (as radio, television, or motion pictures) : the performance of a comedy, tragedy, or other dramatic piece

going to the play

b. : a dramatic composition : drama

c. : pantomime

4. : an act of playing a phonograph record through

this needle should be good for hundreds of plays

Synonyms: see fun , play II, room

- in play

- out of play

II. verb

( -ed/-ing/-s )

Etymology: Middle English playen, pleyen, from Old English plegan

intransitive verb


a. : to engage in recreational activity : amuse or divert oneself : frolic , sport

children playing in the park

b. : to have sexual relations

if he plays with his wife in the evening there's another baby — Pramoedya Toer

especially : to have promiscuous or illicit sexual relations — usually used in the phrases play around or play around with

you've got the wrong impression … she doesn't play around — Calder Willingham

girls who play around with men in uniform — Frederic Wakeman


(1) : to toy or move aimlessly to-and-fro

hand was playing on the edge of the bed — Arnold Bennett

— usually used with with

played disconsolately with her food — Louis Auchincloss

played with his walking stick

(2) : to deal or behave frivolously, mockingly, or playfully : mock , kid , jest

the sallies of those who played at him in print — Times Literary Supplement

— usually used with with

don't play with me — Hartley Howard

(3) : to deal in a light, speculative, or sportive manner : toy mentally

they did not believe in ghosts, but … they let their fancies play on the border line — Van Wyck Brooks

— usually used with with

her mind played with absurd fancies — Ellen Glasgow

liked to play with ideas — Peggy Durdin

rather plays with the allegorical form — H.O.Taylor

(4) : to make use of the double meaning of a word or of the similarity of sound of two words for stylistic or humorous effect — usually used in the phrase play on words

sometimes poets play on words in this fashion — E.S.McCartney

d. Britain : to be out of work or idle : take a holiday



(1) : to have an effect : operate — used with on or upon

the jungle scents played upon my emotions — William Beebe

see that direct heat does not play on dry enamel — Gadgets Annual

(2) : to take advantage : make use — used with on or upon

playing ignobly upon selfish fears — V.L.Parrington

playing upon the divisive forces in the Western world — New York Times

(3) : to exert or seek to exert wiles or influence : practice — used with on or upon

the enchantress playing upon him — George Meredith


(1) : to dart, spring, or fly to and fro : flutter , frisk

watched the birds playing overhead

dolphins playing about the ship

(2) : to move, operate, or have effect in a lively or brisk and irregular, intermittent, or alternating manner

had seen northern lights play across the autumnal skies — B.A.Williams

a faint smile played about her lips — Victoria Sackville-West

muscles could be seen playing beneath his thin cotton shirt — Sherwood Anderson

(3) of a cockbird : to exhibit itself (as in courtship display)


(1) : to move or function freely within prescribed limits : have free or full play

a piston rod plays within a cylinder

(2) : to discharge, eject, or fire something or to become discharged, ejected, or fired repeatedly or so as to make a stream

a stream of water plays to keep the molten mass from congealing — Monsanto Magazine

his cannon played upon the besiegers from two sides



(1) : to perform on a musical instrument

play on a violin

(2) : to sound in performance

the organ is playing

a chorale was playing on the phonograph — Glenn Scott

(3) : to reproduce sound of recorded material

records playing at rotational speeds of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute


(1) : to act on a stage or in some other dramatic medium (as radio, motion pictures, or television)

(2) : to be staged or presented : run

what's playing at the picture shows — Shelby Foote

(3) : to act so as to support or back up — used in the phrase play up to

amusing to find how well they played up to the theory of what an Oxford man ought to be — H.J.Laski

amused him to play up to the popular idea of him — Gerald Bullett

(4) : to make a strong effort or calculated move to gain favor, approval, or sympathy from or as if from a theater audience : make a play

might play to popular prejudices to serve his political ends — V.L.Parrington

sometimes inclined to play to their roadside audience — Norma Spring

whenever he had an audience, he whined and played for sympathy — D.H.Lawrence

— often used in the phrase play up to

when … they weren't playing up to their public — Bennett Cerf

now they would have to play up to this odd-looking, homely woman — Ida A. R. Wylie

(5) : to lend itself to performance especially theatrical

the script reads well but plays badly


a. : to engage or take part in a game

play at chess

played in every major game this year

b. archaic : to exercise or fight with weapons especially for amusement ; specifically : fence

c. : gamble , game

played for heavy stakes


(1) : to behave or conduct oneself in a specified way

don't think I've played quite fair — E.A.McCourt

some cars play dirty — H.W.Young

best to play safe

(2) : to engage in a game of make-believe : assume a role in or as if in sport — used with at

the commuter playing at country squire — Bergen Evans

would play at being well-to-do local housewives — Grace Metalious

(3) : to feign to be in a specified state or condition

the … fawn that she found in the woods, which played dead — Atlantic

don't play innocent

(4) : to take part, engage, or collaborate in or assent to some activity

took it for granted that he would play with the big industrialists — Alvin Johnson

: cooperate

no other nation can be sure … whether we will simply refuse to play — Robert Lekachman

— often used with along

played along until he had enough evidence to hold all three — Morris Ploscowe

willing to play along with him — Harvey Breit

(5) : to function or operate so as to prove advantageous to or enhance the effectiveness of another — used with into

the horizontal lines of the … figure play into the central idea with splendid effect — Roger Fry

easy thus to make one subject play into another — A.C.Benson

especially in the phrase play into the hands of

decided on an unfortunate procedure that played directly into the hands of the opposing party

transitive verb



(1) : to engage in or occupy oneself with (a game or other amusement)

play baseball

(2) : to engage in (some activity) as if in a game

play secret diplomacy and power politics — A.L.Guérard

play hooky

(3) : to pursue a certain line of conduct toward : deal with, handle, or manage : treat

deliberately playing the conversation as though this meal were like any other — Wirt Williams

played him exactly the way I figured — J.M.Cain

the law plays the privilege differently — B.N.Meltzer

— often used with impersonal it as object

symptomatic … of the desire to play it safe — Norman Cousins

willing to play it on the level — Bill Hatch

(4) : to set in opposition : pit

became adept at playing Japanese civilians against the military — E.T.Hall

— usually used with off

able to play off one tribe against another — C.L.Jones

(5) : to treat, use, or work upon (a person) for a certain end or as a member of a designated class : exploit , manipulate — usually used with for

think you are only playing me for what you can get out of me — James Jones

the king … played him for a sucker — DeLancey Ferguson

b. : to treat, practice, or deal with in a spirit of play : pretend to engage in : imitate in play

children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men — H.D.Thoreau

the children were playing house

playing that they were cowboys and Indians

let's play soldiers


(1) : to carry into execution

played an important part in the affair

played a strange and turbulent role — Carol L. Thompson

(2) : to perform or execute for amusement or with a view to deceive or mock

playing their mischievous pranks at the maddest — J.G.Frazer

played a trick on me

(3) : to bring about (some devastating action or condition) : wreak

play havoc


(1) : to assign an indicated degree of value, importance, or emphasis to — usually used with up or down

playing down academic scholarship — H.W.Dodds

the store also plays up … other makes — Retailing Daily

trying to play herself down to me — Williams Forrest

(2) : to give a certain emphasis to (a news story, feature, or other item) especially by displaying more or less prominently

the popular press … played this for all it was worth — C.H.Driver

— usually used with up or down

interesting to see what items were played up — Jacques Kayser

urged to play down stories of crimes



(1) : to put on a performance of (a play) : perform as a spectacle

play an Elizabethan comedy

(2) : to act in the character or part of : represent by acting

a war story in which she played a beautiful spy — Current Biography

(3) : to perform or be shown in

has played more than forty communities — R.W.Sarnoff

: perform or be shown during or for the duration of

played a tour in New England

played a week in Boston


(1) : to perform or act the part of in real life : act or behave like or in the character of

play the fool

play truant

do not expect boys of 15 to be playing the lover — H.E.Scudder

(2) : to perform the part of (some disorganizing, disrupting, or ruinous agency)

this … routine of yours plays hell with manifests and accounting — LaSelle Gilman

brawled and generally played the devil — Kenneth Roberts



(1) : to contend against in a game

refused to play the challenger

(2) : to use as a contestant in a game

played his second team in the last quarter

(3) : to fill (a certain position) on a team

regularly plays third base

played quarterback


(1) : to risk at play : wager in a game : stake

played his last few dollars

(2) : to lose or squander in gambling — usually used with away

played away his inheritance

(3) : to wager on

play the races

play the ponies

(4) : to base a decision or action on : operate on the basis of

play a hunch

playing their luck instead of their skill — Nicholas Monsarrat

c. : to dispose (an implement of a game) purposefully and usually irrevocably according to the conditions of the game: as

(1) : to place (a card from one's hand) on the table usually faceup and in one's turn especially when another player has previously made a lead

(2) : to move (a piece) in chess, checkers, backgammon, or a similar game

(3) : to bet (a chip or a sum of money) in roulette or a similar game

(4) : to strike (a bowled cricket ball) with the bat ; often : to strike (a bowled cricket ball) defensively with no attempt to score


a. : to perform (music or a piece of music) on an instrument

play a waltz

b. : to perform music upon : cause to sound or give forth music

play the violin

c. : to attend with accompanying music in the performance of some action or movement

would play them down the mountain, play them home — Stuart Cloete


(1) : to cause (as a radio or phonograph) to emit sounds

(2) : to cause the recorded sounds of (as a record or a magnetic tape) to be reproduced

5. : to put in action or motion: as

a. : to wield or ply briskly, vigorously, or freely

playing knife and fork with gusto

b. : to discharge, fire, or set off with more or less repeated or continuous effect

play a rifle upon a fort

play a hose

or to eject, throw, or force out in such a way

play a stream of water

c. : to cause to move, act, or operate briskly, lightly, and irregularly or intermittently

played his flashlight along the line of feet — Frank Cameron


(1) : to allow (a hooked fish) to become exhausted by pulling against the line

played the poor fish until it rolled, belly up, from exhaustion — Jim Rearden

(2) : to deliberately keep in a state of suspense or uncertainty : play as though a fish on a line

she played him — sometimes delicately, sometimes with a less felicitous touch — Philip Guedalla


play , sport , disport , frolic , rollick , romp , and gambol can mean, in common, to engage in an activity as a pleasure or amusement. play , the most general, suggests an opposition to work; it implies activity, often strenuous, but emphasizes the absence of any aim other than amusement, diversion, or enjoyment

children playing in the yard

the hard-working business man often plays as hard as he works

sport and disport both imply a complete release from all seriousness, suggesting engagement in a pastime

shall not sport with your impatience by reading what he says on that point — Jane Austen

porters, messengers, and elevator boys, sporting wherever they are, with their sharp winks and sly smiles — Lin Yutang

children sporting on the lawn

good housewives disporting at a church picnic

the sight of a tiny fish disporting himself with me in the tub — William Beebe

frolic suggests generally more gaiety, levity, and spontaneousness than play , applying often to the lighthearted activity of children at active play

porpoises frolicking in the sea

frolicking students

rollick adds the idea of exuberance or reveling, applying chiefly to youths or young adults

a rollicking ship's crew

a tavern full of rollicking revelers

romp suggests a carefree boisterousness as of rough but happy children, usually connoting running or racing in play

a father romping in the living room with his small children

young lions romping in the spring sunshine in their cages

a buxom, attractive comedienne — romps rowdily through the sketches — Newsweek

gambol suggests the leaping and skipping of young lambs, connoting possibly more joy than frolic

when whales gambolled in the bays — W.J.Dakin

in the ecstasy of that thought they gambolled round and round, they hurled themselves into the air in great leaps of excitement — George Orwell

The nouns play , sport , disport , frolic , romp and gambol each signify the activity generally, or an instance of it, implicitly distinguished in the corresponding verb forms above

- play ball

- play both ends against the middle

- play horse

- play old gooseberry

- play politics

- play possum

- play the field

- play the game

- play the market

- play to the score

- play with oneself


intransitive verb

: to gain approval : go over

those issues play well in Western Europe — Russell Watson et al

transitive verb

1. : to catch or pick up (a batted ball) : field

played the ball bare-handed

2. : to direct the course of (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

- play by ear

- play games

- play one's cards

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.