Definition of play in English:

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Pronunciation: /pleɪ/


1 [no object] Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose: the children were playing by a pool her friends were playing with their dolls
More example sentences
  • Do you know who your children are playing with or where they are playing?
  • Let her use up her energy by playing outside every day and enjoying other lively activities.
  • Last week Cromane Beach was a hive of activity with children playing, swimming and enjoying picnics.
amuse oneself, entertain oneself, enjoy oneself, have fun, have a good time, relax, rest, be at leisure, occupy oneself, divert oneself, play games, frolic, frisk, gambol, romp, cavort, caper
informal mess about/around, lark (about/around)
dated sport
archaic or humorous disport oneself
1.1 [with object] Engage in (a game or activity) for enjoyment: I want to play Snakes and Ladders
More example sentences
  • Too much emphasis is placed on solitary activities such as playing video games or watching television.
  • As such, the games were quite fun to play, despite their rather basic gameplay.
  • They also played board games like checkers, chess, and dominoes.
1.2Amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretence: the boys were playing at soldiers
More example sentences
  • My children don't play with guns, but at lunchtime some were playing at shooting each other.
  • As a child, she had played at being a gun-toting cowgirl.
  • It is like little boys and girls playing doctors and nurses.
1.3 (play at) Engage in without proper seriousness or understanding: it would be wrong to assume that he is simply playing at right-wing politics
More example sentences
  • So that she could play at being a countrywoman at Versailles, Louis XV provided her with a hermitage comprising a pavilion, a menagerie, a pasture, dairy and kitchen garden.
  • I mean, they were just playing at it before, but now they're completely serious.
  • Lemar doesn't actually seem to know they're just playing at being in love with each other.
pretend to be, give the appearance of, assume/affect the role of, pass oneself off as, masquerade as, profess to be, pose as, impersonate, make out, fake, feign, simulate, affect, go through the motions of
North American informal make like
1.4 (play with) Treat inconsiderately for one’s own amusement: she likes to play with people’s emotions
More example sentences
  • No-one would exploit real people and play with their emotions and date them just for a piece of art.
  • Do you think I've just been playing with your emotions this last fortnight?
  • She should have known that Eddie was just playing with her heart like everyone else he flirted with.
1.5 (play with) Fiddle or tamper with: has somebody been playing with these taps?
More example sentences
  • Her salad was whisked away and she moved onto playing with the noodles in her pasta.
  • Cable tidies will help prevent children from tripping over cables and playing with them.
  • Sarah plays with her food with her fork, picking out the chocolate chips and making a pile of them at the side of her plate.
1.6 [with negative or in questions] (be playing at) Used to convey one’s irritation at someone’s actions or one’s failure to understand their motives: what on earth do you think you’re playing at?
More example sentences
  • When five executives left Royal Bank Development Capital last summer, seasoned observers wondered what they were playing at.
  • Then she got angry with the men, asking what they thought they were playing at and all that.
  • Interrupting a sentimental ditty, he asked them what they thought they were playing at.
2 [with object] Take part in (a sport): I play squash and badminton
More example sentences
  • I used to play netball when I was a teenager, but was never very good at it.
  • Another new initiative was launched this week to get more children playing sport.
  • He enjoyed many sports, and played table tennis for Manchester and tennis for Manchester University.
2.1Participate in (a sporting match or contest): the squad will have played 14 games in six weeks
More example sentences
  • Omagh were forced to play three championship matches in eight days in October.
  • Yet it was difficult not to feel sorry for Latvia, playing their first match in a major tournament.
  • In the end the match was played amid a torrential downpour, plus thunder and lightning.
2.2Compete against (another player or team) in a sporting match: the team will play France on Wednesday
More example sentences
  • In the Test matches, we are playing the second-ranked team in the world so that's very difficult in itself.
  • It is never easy playing a team that is fighting relegation and has had two bad results on the spin.
  • We may just get a bit tense, and that comes down to inexperience, playing the best team in the world.
compete against, contend against, oppose, take on, challenge, vie with, rival
2.3 [no object] Be part of a team, especially in a specified position, in a sporting contest: he played in goal
More example sentences
  • Now, because they have seen how I play for the national team, they have a new respect for British football.
  • It obviously did the trick, because I became a regular in the first team and went on to play for England.
  • The ultimate goal is to play for Scotland, but there are lots of things before that.
2.4Strike (a ball) or execute (a stroke) in a game: was he in an offside position when his teammate played the ball?
More example sentences
  • Steven Gerrard plays a long ball from left to right, which Luis Garcia fails to control properly and immediately gives away.
  • Trezeguet is caught marginally offside as Henry plays the ball through to him.
  • Emre plays a cross-field ball from left to right.
2.5 [no object, with adverbial] (Of a cricket ground) be in such condition as to have a specified effect on play.
Example sentences
  • The pitch was playing beautifully, but the bowlers stuck to their task.
  • They were invited to bat and scored six for 187, a seemingly fair target on a wicket that was playing well.
  • The wicket wasn't playing that easily, but he knew which shots worked for him on that wicket and was able to adapt his game to that.
2.6Assign to take part in a match, especially in a specified position: the manager played his strongest side of the season
More example sentences
  • Whether England manager Clive Woodward plays him at full-back, on the wing or even at centre on Saturday, he is a certain starter.
  • Woodward, desperate to get the best out of him, has played him in four positions.
  • He was played in the wrong position and did not do too well, but as soon as he moved up front he has got better and better.
2.7Move (a piece) or display (a playing card) in one’s turn in a game: he played his queen
More example sentences
  • Somebody always has to play the role of banker as well as playing their own piece.
  • If you expose the queen of spades, then the first time that someone leads a spade you are not allowed to play the queen if you have other spades.
  • If you have the Ace of trump, you are guaranteed to win the trick you play that in.
2.8Bet or gamble at or on: he didn’t gamble or play the ponies
More example sentences
  • Another important factor in playing the lottery is to play within your means.
  • I don't play the lotto and I avoid gambling at all costs.
  • The money people spend playing the lottery keeps some of these taxes from going up.
3 [no object, usually with negative] Be cooperative: he needs financial backing, but the building societies won’t play
More example sentences
  • The media got another warning from the White House this week: be careful what you do and say, or we won't play.
  • If the lawyers had approved the meetings and then FBI had refused to play, the buck would have been passed to the Bureau.
4 [with object] Represent (a character) in a theatrical performance or a film: early in her career she played Ophelia
More example sentences
  • In my next film I'm playing a really intense character and I'm nervous.
  • Laurence Olivier plays Lord Nelson, and Vivien Leigh is Emma, Lady Hamilton, who becomes his lover.
  • He plays characters his age and doesn't try to pretend he's 20 years younger than he actually is.
act the part of, play the part of, act, take the role of, enact, represent, perform, appear as, portray, depict, impersonate, pretend to be, execute, render, interpret
rare personate
4.1 [no object] Perform in a film or theatrical production: he was proud to be playing opposite a famous actor
More example sentences
  • In The Silver Fleet, she plays opposite another star of the London stage, Ralph Richardson.
  • He has also played in Irish language productions at the Abbey Theatre.
  • Taylor might as well have been playing opposite a wooden Indian for all the response she got from him.
4.2Put on or take part in (a theatrical performance, film, or concert): the show was one of the best we ever played
More example sentences
  • The Rolling Stones played their debut concert at the Marquee club in London in 1962.
  • Not only is he alive, but he's healthy, just short of 60 and still playing packed-out concerts.
  • Jools Holland is playing an open-air concert near Tunbridge Wells soon.
4.3Give a dramatic performance at (a particular theatre or place): the company are playing 11 cities around the country
More example sentences
  • Reynolds plays the Green Room Sunday night and the Railway Club on Wednesday.
  • He was sheer magic at Garter Lane on his previous visit and should not be missed when he plays the Theatre Royal.
  • The brilliant Backbeat Beatles play the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth on Monday.
4.4Behave as though one were (a specified type of person): the skipper played the innocent, but smuggled goods were found on his vessel
More example sentences
  • A cynic would say that people enjoy playing the victim and jumping on the grief bandwagon, they enjoy the attention and the sympathy.
  • As a young girl, Cora had always enjoyed playing the nurse for her brother or her cousins.
  • She stood in the corner playing the shy bride in her long red bridal dress.
4.5 (play someone for) Treat someone as being of (a specified type): don’t imagine you can play me for a fool
More example sentences
  • She plays him for a fool, often feigning helplessness just to see what lengths he will go to in order to prove his love for her.
  • A councillor has accused a brewery of playing Bexley Council for a mug over a pub's opening hours.
  • Are you just playing Rob for a sucker, Amber?
5 [with object] Perform on (a musical instrument): a man was playing a guitar
More example sentences
  • While Natalie was calling my mom, I heard someone start playing the drums really loud.
  • She was greatly impressed when she heard Len playing his guitar, and even more impressed with how he could play the piano.
  • As a teenager he played guitar and harmonica with local bands and skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll groups.
5.1Possess the skill of performing on (a musical instrument): he taught himself to play the violin
More example sentences
  • As well as playing the flute Rosie plays the piano, violin, guitar and sings.
  • She has taught herself to play rhythm guitar and also plays piano and violin.
  • Franz learnt to play the piano and the violin from his father and brothers, and later the viola.
perform on, make music on;
blow, sound, strum
5.2Produce (notes) from a musical instrument; perform (a piece of music): they played a violin sonata
More example sentences
  • The concertmaster played a note on his violin and Lev tuned his instrument to it.
  • Inconspicuously, a three piece ensemble plays background music.
  • The best pieces of American Jazz music will be played and performed on stage.
5.3Make (a disc, music player, or other device) produce sounds or recorded images: someone is playing a record—I can hear the drum
More example sentences
  • And a third of adults use digital, satellite and cable TV to play the new radio stations.
  • By 9 pm, I had watched a dvd and played some records, and I was ready for something else.
  • Write in to any radio stations you know of and demand that they play this record.
5.4 [no object] (Of a musical instrument, music player, or other device) produce sounds or recorded images: somewhere within, a harp was playing some of the videos are playing without sound [with object]: from behind the curtains an organ played a jolly tune
More example sentences
  • We then walked in silence to the studio, where the last record was still playing.
  • He leaves the front door slightly ajar to hear the early Dylan and Stones records playing from inside.
  • He pauses to savour the Kylie Minogue song playing over the bar sound system.
5.5 [with object and adverbial of direction] Accompany (someone) with music as they are moving in a specified direction: the bagpipes played them out of the dining room
More example sentences
  • Brother James, would you play the girls in please?
  • The procession then moved on the Town Hall to be played in by a pianist performing the ‘Uist Tramping Song’.
6 [no object] Move lightly and quickly, so as to appear and disappear; flicker: little beams of light played over the sea
More example sentences
  • Pulling the door shut behind her, she leaned against it, a light smile playing across her lips.
  • His soft babyish snores caused her heart to melt and a light smile played upon her lips.
  • Underneath the floppy hair and the trademark goatee, there is a smile playing on his lips, a twinkle in his eye.
move lightly, dance, flit, dart, ripple, lick, touch
6.1(Of a fountain or similar source of water) emit a stream of gently moving water: a fountain played in the courtyard
More example sentences
  • The garden was beautiful, plants and shrubs tumbling around a vibrant lawn in the centre of which a fountain tinkled and played.
  • In the centre of the lush garden, an elaborate marble fountain played, spraying sparkling jewels of water into the air.
  • The lawns are mown, the box hedge parterres are neatly clipped and the central fountain plays gently in the sunshine.
7 [with object] Allow (a fish) to exhaust itself pulling against a line before reeling it in: no fisherman ever played a bonita more carefully or with greater wile
More example sentences
  • We spotted that the boat nearest to us had an angler playing a fish and that same fish leapt right in front of our path.
  • Holding the rod high whilst playing a fish is often a recipe for disaster, especially when the fish is close to the boat.
  • Remember the whole rod should be used in playing the fish.


[mass noun]
1Activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children: a child at play may use a stick as an aeroplane
More example sentences
  • The children introduced themselves through song and words and we watched them at play.
  • There's a pause in the game, and the TV begins showing cute little kittens at play.
  • While at play, toddlers and young children are usually in the care of older siblings.
1.1Behaviour or speech that is not intended seriously: I flinched, but only in play
More example sentences
  • Teach kids to respect the cat, and do not allow them to chase or corner the cat even in play.
  • Gordy and Stevie were fighting, but Rhiannon knew it was only in play.
1.2 [as modifier] Designed to be used in games of pretence; not real: play families are arranged in play houses
2The conducting of a sporting match: rain wrecked the second day’s play
More example sentences
  • He did admit that he had felt in charge of the match before play was halted.
  • After two hours and 17 minutes of play the match was abandoned with Greenock on 136 for three.
  • They were up against it in this match too, conceding a goal after just 35 seconds of play.
2.1The action or manner of engaging in a sport or game: he maintained the same rhythm of play throughout the game
More example sentences
  • Today, we have got used to watching almost constant attacking play.
  • There was zest and quick movement to United's play despite spells of control by Rangers.
  • The first half was close with neither side gaining dominance in any area of play.
2.2The status of the ball in a game as being available to be played according to the rules: the ball was put in play
More example sentences
  • He walks off the pitch to get treatment, Nigeria kick the ball out of play so he can come back on.
  • Prop Howard Carr kicked a penalty into touch and the ball bounced back into play after hitting a tree.
  • The ball goes out of play and he gets to his feet with the air about him of a man who'd settle for a corner.
2.3The state of being active, operative, or effective: someone has a bright idea and decides to put it into play the forces of a worldwide economy are in play
More example sentences
  • The Corsa comes with electric power steering, which only comes into play when needed.
  • This is where personal campaigning by influential people here comes into play.
  • It is only when more than two teams finish level on points and they have all beaten one another that run rate comes into play.
action, activity, operation, movement, motion, agency, employment, working, function, functioning, exercise, interaction, interplay
2.4 [count noun] A move or manoeuvre in a sport or game: the best play is to lead the 3 of clubs
More example sentences
  • But Woodson is getting more chances to make big plays in the passing game this season.
  • He is strong enough to play off blocks and make plays in the running game and agile enough to be an asset in coverage.
  • At moments in a game great plays are needed, no matter what the defense, and the superstar shifts gears.
2.5 archaic The activity of gambling: a young nobleman, ruined by play
More example sentences
  • A gentleman complained to Talleyrand of having been insulted by a charge of cheating at play.
3 [count noun] A dramatic work for the stage or to be broadcast: the actors put on a new play
More example sentences
  • Her career has included stage roles in plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Ibsen.
  • The Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of the theatre in which Shakespeare's plays were originally staged.
  • I went to see a double bill of two plays by Harold Pinter.
drama, stage play, stage show, theatrical work, theatrical piece, radio play, television play, teleplay, screenplay, comedy, tragedy, farce, sketch;
production, performance, spectacle, show
4The space in or through which a mechanism can or does move: the steering rack was loose, and there was a little play
More example sentences
  • The action is smooth, the cylinder locks up tightly with very little play, and the trigger pull is light and crisp.
  • Since then there's been a lot of play in the steering.
movement, freedom of movement, free motion, slack, give;
room to manoeuvre, room to operate, scope, latitude, elbow room, space, margin
4.1Scope or freedom to act or operate: our policy allows the market to have freer play
More example sentences
  • It also recognises the fact that the free play of markets creates problems for society.
5Light and constantly changing movement: the artist exploits the play of light across the surface
More example sentences
  • Be sure to visit at different times of the day and evening to enjoy the play of light.
  • The deliberate use of an uneven surface allows for the greater play of light.
  • He stopped and leaned over the bridge wall to watch the play of light on the river.



bring (or call) into play

Cause something to start working so that one can make use of it: he cannot afford to bring into play the kind of leadership veto that operated all those years ago
More example sentences
  • The fall-out will be even worse should the not proven verdict be called into play.
  • Extra pairs of hands have been brought into play to ensure a North Yorkshire historic hall is safely ‘put to bed’ for the winter.
  • It is not unusual at Celtic Park for the services of a behavioural expert to be brought into play, although this is normally for the study of referees.

come into play

Becoming active, operative, or effective: luck comes into play
More example sentences
  • Adding to the complexity, state ethics rules also come into play.
  • There comes a point in the refurbishment process where the law of diminishing returns come into play.
  • The concern for our joint responsibility to encourage rehabilitation should come into play in borderline cases.

make a play for

informal Attempt to attract or attain: we invited men to make a play for the award she started to make a play for the young man
More example sentences
  • The buying spree lasted from October 2004 to January 2005 and Mr Lynch's activity convinced analysts he was attempting to make a play for the group.
  • ‘Developers are making a play for downtown residential space, taking advantage of of tax incentives and loans from the city of Jacksonville,’ the report says.
  • You'll never believe who Trina Matheson made a play for!

make (great) play of (or with)

Draw attention to in an ostentatious manner, typically to gain prestige or advantage: the company made great play of their recent growth in profits
More example sentences
  • He makes great play of his non-establishment (meaning non-public school, and non-Oxbridge) background.
  • He even makes great play of the fact that he used to be right-wing.
  • For all their perceived monetary difficulties, Hibs continue to make great play of plans to build two football academy-type centres, though both proposals are proceeding slowly.

make play with

Treat frivolously: leaders should not make play with values and ideals

not playing with a full deck

see deck.

play ball

see ball1.

play both ends against the middle

Keep one’s options open by supporting or favouring opposing sides.
Example sentences
  • The only catch is that Stoker's been losing so many fights that his manager - playing both ends against the middle - doesn't feel compelled to let Stoker know he's been contracted to take a dive in the third round.
  • Like him, he was a brilliant speaker and lawyer and played both ends against the middle.
  • Big Oil is hardly blameless and at the start was no doubt trying to play both ends against the middle.

play something by ear

Perform music without having to read from a score: she could play both by ear and by reading
More example sentences
  • Today he still can't read music; he plays instruments by ear.
  • He learned to play the piano by ear, developing a talent for improvisation which, years later, he would put to good use during the filming of America: A Personal History of the United States.
  • He taught himself to play a bit by ear, amused the rowdy crowds, and picked up small change.
(play it by ear) informal9.1 Proceed instinctively according to results and circumstances rather than according to rules or a plan: we’ll just have to play it by ear until we can get something definite sorted out
More example sentences
  • I haven't made any decisions; I'm just going to play it by ear.
  • That's a decision for the future, and we'll play it by ear.
  • I'm not sure what's on the itinerary; we'll just play it by ear; might visit a gallery, go for something to eat, etc.
make it up as one goes along, take it as it comes, think on one's feet;
Latin ad libitum
informal busk it, wing it
take it as it comes;
Latin ad libitum
informal busk it, wing it

play by one's own rules

Act as one chooses, rather than following convention: a maverick cop who plays by his own rules
More example sentences
  • Other cops are actually working with him for once, instead of branding him as a maverick "cowboy" playing by his own rules.
  • For better or worse, he has always played by his own rules, no matter how ridiculous it's made him look.
  • The move allows him to legitimately work from outside the system and play by his own rules.

play by the rules

Follow what is generally held to be the correct line of behaviour: some women refused to play by the rules and allow motherhood to put an end to their career prospects
More example sentences
  • Compulsory schooling defines good citizens as those who play by the rules, stay in line, and do as they're told.
  • If it became too difficult to obtain parole then they could create a faction of dissident prisoners who will see no incentive in playing by the rules and addressing their offending behaviour.
  • Capone is a Jamaican cop who refuses to play by the rules.

play one's cards close to one's chest

see chest.

play one's cards right (or well)

see card1.

play ducks and drakes with


play fair

Observe principles of justice; avoid cheating: he decided to play fair and own up
More example sentences
  • To continue the footballing analogy, it is like asking footballers to sign a formal declaration before each game that they will not cheat and will always play fair.
  • We believe our customers want the security of a bank which is here for the long term, which plays fair and has no nasty surprises up its sleeve.
  • To Sam this wasn't playing fair, but they soon found out that despite clauses in the contract of sale that forbade such enterprises there was pragmatically not much they could do.

play someone false

Deceive or cheat someone: the Assembly played us false his memory plays him false if he thinks I chose this post
More example sentences
  • Sophia now sees that he has played her false. He is not her true love.
  • His post-1934 correspondence and memoirs frequently contradict reliable accounts of the period, and the conclusion that his memory played him false on numerous occasions is inescapable.

play fast and loose

Behave irresponsibly or immorally: I am not someone who plays fast and loose with other people’s lives
More example sentences
  • Meanwhile, Chris, one of his students, is blazing away at his own novel, a historical saga that plays fast and loose with the facts about Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • You already noted that Moore plays fast and loose with the facts, and mildly criticized him for it.
  • This film about the Latin American revolutionary plays fast and loose with the facts.

play favourites

North American Show favouritism towards someone or something: the Soviet diplomat said he wasn’t playing favourites in the presidential campaign
More example sentences
  • They crowded around her, and Koko, who plays favourites, asked one woman wearing red to come closer.
  • People were swearing at me the whole time and accusing me of playing favourites.
  • Many smash repairers say the insurance companies are going too far, and playing favourites, even amongst the preferred repairers.

play the field

see field.

play for time

Use specious excuses or unnecessary manoeuvres to gain time: he played for time by establishing an advisory committee
More example sentences
  • Was there anything to be gained by playing for time, trying to learn more of what he might be facing?
  • They're playing for time and our position is they should not be allowed to do that.
  • The Government - pleading realpolitik, invoking the national interest and playing for time - seem to have pacified, at least on the surface, an angry public.
use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, gain time, hang back, hang fire, hold back, procrastinate, beat about the bush, drag one's feet, delay, filibuster, stonewall

play the game

see game1.

play God

see God.

play havoc with

see havoc.

play hell

see hell.

play hookey

see hookey.

play a (or one's) hunch

Make an instinctive choice: it had only been a shot in the dark—playing a hunch, really
More example sentences
  • When that webpage was completely open, Brant found the site's search engine and played his hunch.
  • Go ahead, play your hunch, take the chance,
  • ‘This is no time for playing a hunch,’ Warren warned.

play oneself in

British Become accustomed to the circumstances and conditions of a game or activity: once he had played himself in he was an excellent stroke-maker
More example sentences
  • It's good for people who want to watch a game after work, but I think the art of batting is to work out the pitch and play yourself in.
  • In the circumstances, Jayawardene and Nawaz were forced to play themselves in cautiously, with the inevitable result of a drop in the scoring rate.
  • Scott, the young amateur, played himself in steadily before opening out with a string of sparkling strokes.

play into someone's hands

Act in such a way as unintentionally to give someone an advantage: overreaction to the threats would be playing into the hands of the terrorists
More example sentences
  • Half way through the third race there was no way I thought I would win but suddenly everything started playing into my hands and I took advantage.
  • Most drivers and team engineers believe that Ferrari's advantage was exaggerated because the cool weather in Melbourne played into their hands.
  • I fear I may already be playing into their hands by writing this and giving them more publicity, but I couldn't be silent.

play it cool

informal Make an effort to be or appear to be calm and unemotional: the band wanted the deal badly, but were determined to play it cool
More example sentences
  • I considered playing it cool, and pretending that I knew all along.
  • Mom is playing it cool, but her eyes betray her real emotions.
  • I fell for her too quickly, really, and she played it cool in them days.

play it straight

Act or perform seriously, without excessive embellishment or affectation: she played it straight with the intent of presenting a believable character
More example sentences
  • It all sounds incredibly goofy but they're playing it straight and the results look shockingly good.
  • He is determined to make his actors believe that this insanity is sane, making sure, at all times, that they're playing it straight.
  • Stone, to his credit, plays it straight, making something of lasting value as a result.
30.1Act in an honest and open manner, without deception or trickery: corporate executives don’t always play it straight
More example sentences
  • This is going to be a general principle of governing: no spin, play it straight, describe to the people the state that we're in, and then provide them and Congress a sense of direction.
  • Play it straight, and your divorce will go more smoothly.
  • The only people I have trouble with are the ones who don't play it straight.

play the market

Speculate in stocks: these investors know how to play the market and win
More example sentences
  • If you have the foresight to start planning when your child is still an infant, you will be much freer to play the market and make higher risk, higher return investments in a 15 to 18-year period.
  • Of course if you want to speculate or play the market, you need to acknowledge that you are taking on board, or you're voluntarily assuming, a degree of risk.
  • For most stock market investors, whether pension funds or individuals playing the market from their home PC, short-term growth is the goal.

a play on words

A pun: every page contains a subtle play on words or arresting metaphor
More example sentences
  • He said: ‘The youth church will be called Sorted, which is a bit of a play on words, because as well as being a trendy, youth culture word, ‘soter’ is Greek for salvation.
  • ‘The title's a play on words, really,’ he explains.
  • I was unprepared, though, for the excellence of chef Willie Little's establishment Exceed - a play on words which refers to the premises, once the shop and loft for seed merchants.
pun, wordplay, double entendre, double meaning, innuendo, witticism, quip, quibble
rare paronomasia, equivoque, amphibology, pivot, calembour, carriwitchet, clench, clinch, conundrum, nick, pundigrion, whim

play a part

Make a contribution to a situation: social and economic factors may have also played a part he personally wanted to thank those nurses and staff who had played a part in his recovery
More example sentences
  • A sharp rise in life expectancy has also played a part.
  • There is, however, a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from playing a part in developing health services.
  • The financial advantage of being in an Enterprise Zone also played a part.

play (or play it) safe (or for safety)

Take precautions; avoid risks: I think we’ll play safe and get another set of X-rays done
More example sentences
  • The results so far show that women prefer to play it safe than to take risks with their money.
  • I'm the kind of person who would rather play it safe and lose out than risk everything and have a chance at winning.
  • She had to weigh up the pros and cons - risk a long time out this spring, or play it safe and maybe miss out on a medal in front of her home crowd.

play to the gallery


play a trick (or joke) on

Behave in a deceptive or teasing way towards: she played a trick on me by not telling me what to expect
More example sentences
  • Are you sure it's not someone playing a trick on you?
  • It's got to be one of our friends playing a joke on us.'
  • She said: ‘When I received the phone call saying that I had won the car, I hung up the phone on them because I thought it was someone playing a joke on me.’

play truant

see truant.

play with oneself

informal Masturbate.

play with fire

Take foolish risks: an urge to play with fire made her provoke him
More example sentences
  • We're playing with fire when we make huge changes to a complex system that we don't understand, as we seem to be doing with the various substances we're pumping into our atmosphere.
  • Now when it comes to technological advances I have no problem, however when it involves messing with a biological system such as our bodies I believe we are playing with fire.
  • Roeder's attempt to ignite his team's season with a player who has courted controversy at almost every turn was described by critics as playing with fire.

played out

Pronunciation: /ˌpleɪd ˈaʊt/
Used or seen too many times before so no longer interesting: the melodrama is a little played out to be entirely satisfying

Phrasal verbs


play about (or around)

Behave in a casual, foolish, or irresponsible way: you shouldn’t play around with a child’s future
More example sentences
  • Everyone knows that when scientists play around with genes, they screw up.
  • We can't play around with the future of our children.
  • A lot of Christmas discs play around with the music we've grown to love over the years, but not enough try and make something unique enough to really stand out.
informal1.1 (Of a married person) have a love affair: was her husband playing around?
More example sentences
  • You can't stop a married man from playing around, but when he takes a mistress and actually sets up a household, then he breaks the law.
  • Our father was ‘playing around’, as my mother later explained it to us.
womanize, philander, have affairs/an affair, flirt, dally, trifle/toy with someone's affections
informal carry on, mess about/around, play the field, play away, sleep around, swing, be a man-eater
North American informal fool around
vulgar slang screw around
rare coquet

play along

Perform a piece of music at the same time as it is playing on a tape or record: I could make harmonies by playing along with the tape
More example sentences
  • His typical early evening entertainment involves putting on a tape of some unidentifiable rock music and playing along to it.
  • Since then he has got his own junior drum kit and plays along to records by his favourite bands by ear.
  • I'm one of those people who learned the guitar playing along to Beatles records and stuff…
2.1Pretend to cooperate: she had to play along and be polite
More example sentences
  • I have no desire to play along with Kelly's little machinations.
  • I figured I could play along with the ‘just friends’ bit, then ply him with alcohol and take advantage of him.
  • When Sascha first told me he was a neuropsychologist, I thought he was joking, so I decided to play along with it and told him I was a nurse.
cooperate, collaborate, play along, play the game, go along with the plan, show willing, be willing, help, lend a hand, assist, be of assistance, contribute, reciprocate, respond
informal pitch in

play someone along

informal Deceive or mislead someone over a period of time: he’d play her along till she got fed up
More example sentences
  • Jackie Lye as Gill the good time girl playing Mark along is certainly lust on legs and captures this temptress perfectly.
  • Rather than telling the ‘buyer’ to take a running jump, Jeff decided to play him along while at the same time complaining about his actions to eBay.
  • I had no idea what I was doing, just that I had to play him along and find us a way out of this.

play away

Play a sports fixture on an opponent’s ground.
Example sentences
  • In France, if there is more than one division between the teams drawn together, the higher team plays away as a handicap.
  • The professional clubs come in at the third round and this time it will be an open draw, with the amateurs not having to play away.
  • In a ground share, the standard arrangement is that, on a given weekend, one team plays at home while the other plays away.
informal4.1 (Of a married person) have a love affair.
Example sentences
  • I'm amazed the number of my married women friends who've played away since their fifties.
  • A one-night stand cost him an estimated stg £100m when his wife, Pamela, found out that he had been playing away from home.
  • I was married with a little boy by now but my wife fell in love with someone else and I was playing away.

play something back

Play sounds that one has recently recorded, especially to monitor recording quality: I did a lot of recording and then played it back
More example sentences
  • The comments were only noticed after the official Press briefing, when the recordings were played back.
  • After recording one track, you can play it back while recording another.
  • Mike played the tape back and the song sounded awesome.

play something down

Represent something as being less important than it in fact is: he tried to play down the seriousness of his illness
More example sentences
  • But the risk is played down by the government body meant to ensure that our food is safe, the Food Standards Agency.
  • Not surprisingly, this whole episode was played down by the press.
  • Sharon plays it down, insisting it'll be a small affair.
soft-pedal, tone down, diminish, downgrade, trivialize, detract from, underrate, underestimate, undervalue, think little of, disparage, decry, deprecate, talk down, belittle, slight, scoff at, sneer at
informal pooh-pooh
rare derogate

play someone off

Bring people into conflict or competition for one’s own advantage: top footballers were able to play clubs off against each other to gain higher pay
More example sentences
  • It's divide-and-rule, playing us off in a grim bidding war of who will work for the least money.
  • Don't let the property developers play us off against each other.
  • ‘Eamon believed that Today FM were trying to play him off against Bird as a way of keeping down the size of his salary,’ said one station insider.

play off

(Of two teams or competitors) play an extra match to decide a draw or tie: the top two teams would play off at Twickenham
More example sentences
  • Sadly, aggregate scores counted for nothing in those days, and having won and lost a leg apiece, the teams played off.
  • The third and fourth place teams also played off, with the loser eliminated and the winner playing the loser of the one versus two game.
  • The winners of their respective matches will contest the final, while the losers will play off for the bronze medal.

play on

Exploit (a weak or vulnerable point in someone): he played on his opponent’s nerves
More example sentences
  • It plays on the fact that there is nothing else up there and you'll probably be desperate for something to eat, or at least to drink.
  • Any politician who plays on race is a danger to the country and should never be allowed to run in any public office.
  • Any company that asks for large amounts of money or plays on people's greed or fears should be immediately suspect.
exploit, take advantage of, use, make use of, turn to (one's) account, profit by, capitalize on, impose on, trade on, milk, abuse, misuse
informal walk all over

play out

1Develop in a particular way: the position of the sub-tropical jet stream across North America will determine how winter plays out
More example sentences
  • We've had decades to watch the digital revolution play out.
  • Thankfully, all the character machinations (no pun intended) play out well.
  • Allen said the current code could allow an institution to recuperate some losses in revenue for whatever plays out.
2Happen; take place: this scenario plays out all across the country
More example sentences
  • I was really struck by the way the climatic gunfight played out in the movie.
  • They do however impart an added level of mayhem you can inflict on the Federation, all of which plays out nicely on screen.
  • The second race of the day was played out in very different conditions to the first.

play someone out

Drain someone of strength or life: she was played out, too exhausted even to weep
More example sentences
  • There was a sense that I was played out, I was finished.
  • There was nowhere else I could go. I was played out.
  • By this time I was played out and so were Beck and Nora.

play something out

Act the whole of a drama; enact a scene or role: they were playing out a familiar scenario
More example sentences
  • Such scenes are played out across the whole of Britain with a fair degree of regularity, though they remain relatively rare north of the border.
  • The little church has seen hundred of years pass by and lives long forgotten have played their dramas out around it.
  • It is just that, here, all life's dramas are played out in front of the most spectacular backdrop you could hope to find.
happen, occur, take place, come about, come to pass, crop up, turn up, arise, chance, ensue, befall, be realized, take shape, transpire
rare eventuate
enact, perform, render, act, stage;
express, give expression to, communicate, set forth, articulate

play up

1 informal (Of a child) misbehave: I hadn’t had much sleep - the kids had been playing up
1.1Fail to function properly: his phone line was constantly playing up
More example sentences
  • The hamstring wasn't too bad but my knee was playing up a little bit.
  • It was just my thigh playing up again and they want me to play again next week.
  • However, if the Irishman's troublesome hamstring plays up, Reardon could be switched to his favoured right-wing spot.
not work properly, be defective, be faulty, malfunction, act up, give trouble
informal be/go on the blink
2Put all one’s energy into a game: the captain told his team to play up
More example sentences
  • Insofar as basketball is concerned, if he is already playing up, teach him the game as you would the older players.

play someone up

(Of a part of the body or an illness) cause pain or discomfort to someone: my rheumatism’s playing me up
More example sentences
  • My knee is still playing me up and I'm still walking with a limp.
  • After all this pressing of numbers my fingers were playing me up as I am well past retirement age.
  • Oh I'm fine, a bit tired - Roger's back is still playing him up.
be painful, hurt, ache, be sore, cause pain, cause discomfort, cause trouble, annoy
informal kill someone, give someone gyp

play something up

Emphasize the extent or importance of something: the mystery surrounding his death was played up by the media
More example sentences
  • Predictions of 450,000 lost jobs are played up in the media, while the jobs that will be created to combat global warming are ignored.
  • Now governments can get more support by playing the threat up and issuing constant warnings.
  • His warnings were unheeded, and, as he predicted, Republicans played the issue up in the final weeks of the campaign.
emphasize, put/lay emphasis on, accentuate, bring/draw/call attention to, focus attention on, point up, underline, underscore, highlight, spotlight, foreground, feature, give prominence to, bring to the fore, heighten, stress, accent

play up to

Exploit, trade on, or make the most of.
Example sentences
  • He's also a mass of contradictions, desperately playing up to more successful ex-schoolmates and then verbally and physically assaulting them.
  • When every major presidential candidate contributes to a candidate or plays up to a labor activist in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, that makes it possible for the recipients of this attention to choose relatively freely.
ingratiate oneself with, seek the favour of, try to get on the good side of, curry favour with, court, fawn on/over, make up to, keep someone sweet, toady to, crawl to, grovel to, pander to, be obsequious towards, truckle to, flatter
informal soft-soap, suck up to, butter up, be all over, lick someone's boots
North American informal brown-nose


Old English pleg(i)an 'to exercise', plega 'brisk movement', related to Middle Dutch pleien 'leap for joy, dance'.

  • In Old English plegan or plegian meant ‘to exercise’, while plega meant ‘brisk movement or activity’, and could also be used to describe a dramatic performance on stage. These are the first uses of play. Today terms such as swordplay and gunplay preserve the old ‘brisk movement’ sense of the noun. To play with fire is to take foolish risks with something potentially dangerous. The proverb if you play with fire you get burned dates from the late 19th century, though a similar sentiment is expressed by the poet Henry Vaughan in 1655: ‘I played with fire, did counsel spurn…But never thought that fire would burn / Or that a soul could ache.’ Play it again, Sam is a popular misquotation from the film Casablanca (1942). Although these precise words are never actually spoken in the film, Humphrey Bogart does say ‘If she can stand it, I can. Play it!’, and earlier in the film Ingrid Bergman says ‘Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By”.’ The US magazine Playboy was founded in 1953 by Hugh Hefner. A playboy was at first, back in 1616, a boy actor. The modern sense, ‘an irresponsible pleasure-seeking man’, started in Ireland, and is first recorded in the 1820s.

Words that rhyme with play

affray, agley, aka, allay, Angers, A-OK, appellation contrôlée, array, assay, astray, au fait, auto-da-fé, away, aweigh, aye, bay, belay, betray, bey, Bombay, Bordet, boulevardier, bouquet, brae, bray, café au lait, Carné, cassoulet, Cathay, chassé, chevet, chez, chiné, clay, convey, Cray, crème brûlée, crudités, cuvée, cy-pres, day, decay, deejay, dégagé, distinguée, downplay, dray, Dufay, Dushanbe, eh, embay, engagé, essay, everyday, faraway, fay, fey, flay, fray, Frey, fromage frais, gainsay, Gaye, Genet, giclee, gilet, glissé, gray, grey, halfway, hay, heigh, hey, hooray, Hubei, Hué, hurray, inveigh, jay, jeunesse dorée, José, Kay, Kaye, Klee, Kray, Lae, lay, lei, Littré, Lough Neagh, lwei, Mae, maguey, Malay, Mallarmé, Mandalay, Marseilles, may, midday, midway, mislay, misplay, Monterrey, Na-Dene, nay, né, née, neigh, Ney, noway, obey, O'Dea, okay, olé, outlay, outplay, outstay, outweigh, oyez, part-way, pay, Pei, per se, pince-nez, portray, pray, prey, purvey, qua, Quai d'Orsay, Rae, rangé, ray, re, reflet, relevé, roman-à-clef, Santa Fé, say, sei, Shar Pei, shay, slay, sleigh, sley, spae, spay, Spey, splay, spray, stay, straightaway, straightway, strathspey, stray, Sui, survey, sway, Taipei, Tay, they, today, tokay, Torbay, Tournai, trait, tray, trey, two-way, ukiyo-e, underlay, way, waylay, Wei, weigh, wey, Whangarei, whey, yea

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