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The Spanish entry for the transitive part is wrong; it should be jugar, not jogar.

I don't think's change in the definition is accurate. Not that the old def was very good. But in American football they definitely talk about "plays". Perhaps's new def is another meaning again but I'm not sure. — Hippietrail 09:48, 14 Aug 2004 (UTC)

re geological formation Can somebody give a citation for this usage?

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(intransitive) To deal with a situation in a diplomatic manner. Can this possibly be intransitive? What sort of sentence might it appear in? Equinox 16:09, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

If we meet with Shakashvili, how will it play?
But the definition isn't quite right. More like How should it play? and that is impersonal or avalent. Robert Ullmann 19:26, 9 November 2008 (UTC)
I think of the sense used in the cite as applicable in any context (diplomacy, business negotiation, politics, interpersonal relations, entertainment, advertising) where "audience" reaction (one person, many, or mass) matters. It is close to a sense of play out, but MW has go over as a synonym, which is better. (BTW, the entry seems to lack some senses.) DCDuring TALK 19:52, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

RFV failed, sense removed. I agree with DCDuring that we seem to be missing some senses. None of our senses seems to support any of these examples:

  • [Robert Ullmann's example above.]
How will it play in the Midwest?
I trusted him, and he totally played me.
  • For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool / By making his world a little colder.
The radio station refused to play any of their music.
Once again, I played the fool.

(Some of these may be better addressed by expanding existing senses than by adding new ones.) —RuakhTALK 17:42, 7 March 2010 (UTC)


The following sense seems dubious: (copulative) In a game or game-like setting, to maintain a posture of being. Not totally implausible, but as a native speaker, I would argue that a person who uses a sentence like "Play nice, children," really intends for the children to play (in an intransitive literally meaning engaging in playful, amusing activities), rather than merely "maint[aining] a posture of being."-- 01:24, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

I don't like the sense either. How do we analyze the expression "play nice"?
  1. Has "play nice" become an idiom? I haven't yet found any dictionary that calls "play nice" an idiom.
  2. Is "nice#Adverb" a slang/colloquial adverb? (It collocates with "make", "dress", "play", and "piled" in usage recorded at COCA.) Random House Unabridged shows "make nice" as an idiom.
  3. What senses does "play" have when used with words usually considered adjectives. Some words not shown by MWOnline as adverbs that collocate with "play" (at COCA) are "dead", "dumb", "nice", and "hurt", "good", "bad", and "great". "Dead" and "dumb" fit with the other copulative sense. The last four are slang adverbs mostly used in sports.
This leads me to believe that "play nice" is best analyzed as an ordinary sense of "play" used with a slang/colloquial adverb "nice". DCDuring TALK 02:50, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback. I'm not a professional linguist, so I'm beginning to realize how complex the question is. I think there's a very fine line between creating an additional sense for "[being] . . .in game or game-like setting" vs. participating in a game (i.e. playing in a game). At the same time, although you may disagree, I'm increasingly wondering whether the phrase itself ("play nice") might not be an idiom of some sort--or at the very least, there is an idiomatic or figurative quality to play in "play nice"...For instance, this phrase is applicable outside what is literally a game (hence "game-like setting" above), so for example a political commentator might criticize two partisan foes for obstructionism or bad faith, and then rhetorically chide them, "Play nice..." But admittedly that needn't make "play nice" itself an idiom. Either way, it seems somewhat likely that a specific sense of "play" might be appropriate for such figurative uses....but it still doesn't solve the question of whether an independent or existing sense should be applicable to the literal action of children engaging in amusing activities. -- 10:13, 16 June 2010 (UTC)
I'm just an enthusiastic amateur with a few reference works. DCDuring TALK 02:49, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
I agree with you, DCDuring. The CGEL, on page 567, mentions "treat me nice" as an example of a song lyric using a nonstandard flat adverb. (I think I disagree with your comment on one minor point: hurt in "to play hurt" does strike me as an adjective, not a slang adverb; but that doesn't seem to affect your point, since it doesn't have to make "play" copulative, any more than "come" and "leave" have to be copulative in "he came angry, but he left satisfied".) —RuakhTALK 02:26, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
I still don't understand the verbs that take adjective complements, but aren't copulas vs. copulas. DCDuring TALK 02:49, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
So, uh, don't quote me on all the details of this, but my understanding is roughly as follows:
  • Broadly speaking, if a verb takes a single adjective-phrase complement, then it is a copula. (But this doesn't apply to things like "I've tried angry, I've tried conciliatory, but nothing works with him", where angry and conciliatory are nominals.)
  • Sometimes, as in the examples I gave above, a verb can be followed by an adjective-phrase adjunct that modifies the subject of the verb. I'm not sure what licenses this — whether it's a property of the verb, or what — but doesn't require (allow?) the verb to be a copula. I also don't know if the adjunct "attaches" to the verb, or how that works. (But I note that this construction is sometimes possible even if the verb doesn't have an explicit subject, as in "Playing hurt, though dangerous, is common", so presumably on some level it does attach to the verb phrase. Conversely, I note that it's "he came in angry", not *"he came angry in", and "to play football hurt", not *"to play hurt football", so its attachment, if to the verb phrase, seems to be relatively high.)
  • Adjuncts are generally distinguishable from complements by their greater syntactic flexibility; consider "He played/seemed hurt" vs. "although he was hurt, he played/*seemed", or "he left/looked satisfied" vs. "he was satisfied when he left/*looked".
I don't know of any general-purpose tests for this, but hopefully it's intuitive enough once you have the general idea.
Ruakh[[User talk:|TALK]] 03:17, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
At User:DCDuring#Copulas I have some lists of copulas. I am still not sure about all of them having copulative senses. DCDuring TALK 04:56, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
Just to make sure I'm understanding, regardless of whether sense #10 (copula for "Contrary to fact, to give an appearance of being") is correct, we're still debating whether sense #11 is copulative? -- 07:49, 19 June 2010 (UTC)
I think so. DCDuring TALK 10:25, 19 June 2010 (UTC)


  1. there are leftover translations for the deleted sense discussed above
  2. regarding sense #4 (intransitive) "I've practiced the piano off and on, and I still can't play very well.", isn't this the same as "i still can't play [it] very well", ie transitive?

K kisses 13:48, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

Re: #1: Are you sure? I don't see them …
Re: #2: If you're asking if it's transitive, then the answer is "no". If you're asking if it's the same as transitive sense #7, then the answer is "yes". (Senses #3 and #6 are also the same.)
RuakhTALK 15:23, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

RFV discussion[edit]

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Rfv-sense: (copulative) In a game or game-like setting, to maintain a posture of being.

Play nice, children.
I had added this more than a year ago. An anon expressed skepticism at Talk:play. I have added nice#Adverb "(colloquial) Nicely", and incorporated "play nice" as a usage example. DCDuring TALK 11:36, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
IMO this is not different from the usual definition of play. Walk straight can mean "walk while straight, i.e. with a straight back", but I don't think we should have a separate sense of walk for it. The adjectives/adverbs (nice, straight) should have such senses, as you say you've added, DCDuring.​—msh210 (talk) 20:09, 14 July 2010 (UTC)

Sense removed. (I hesitate to say "RFV failed", because "play nice" is in clearly widespread use; the question was whether this was a distinct sense of play.) —RuakhTALK 15:25, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

play as a noun referring to playing instruments[edit]

Is play a correct word for the activity of playing an instrument? Or is it included in the meaning no 1 here?

Example: Does song, dance and play have to mean only singing, dancing and playing games (amusement, children's playing) or can the play part refer also to the musical activity? 12:09, 28 December 2010 (UTC)

Play (sports)[edit]

Something that should be discussed is how 'play' is only used for things like basketball, baseball, football (etc) but not things like swimming and martial arts. A lot of Asian non native speakers have trouble understanding this and often saying "I play swimming."--Bluesoju 02:06, 12 April 2011 (UTC)

Animal play[edit]

Two references—I have the second with me:

  • Robert Fagen Animal Play Behavior (OUP, 1981)
  • Gordon M. Burghardt The Genesis of Animal Play (MIT, 2005)

There has been a lot of controversy, in scientific circles post-19th-century, regarding the use of anthropomorphic terminology when discussing (non-human) animals and animal psychology. But in the 19th century, using human concepts to describe animals was normative. The pendulum has swung back somewhat. But only somewhat.

I presume that animal play has been described, in English, going way back. (Whether using play or some other term, like sport or frolic or horsing around, I cannot say.) One could argue that this does not need a separate definition: it is really just an extended metaphor. In particular, play was used in the writings of several 19th century naturalists, including Darwin, regarding ants, fireflies, and crabs:

1877, Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, edition 2nd:
Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber, who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies.

But between Freud and Skinner, the ethologists turned away from such language completely. It is only in the late 20th century that anthropomorphisms returned. But now they come with as many scientific safeguards as possible, so as to describe what are supposed to be objective, testable notions. These notions certainly deserve separate entries.

It should be noted at the outset that play is perhaps the most difficult of all these notions, at least to define. The study of play itself, even among humans, is generally not taken seriously, and animal psychologists who take up the study generally find themselves marginalized. Part of that is simply the investigators stumble at the starting gate, so to speak, not quite certain how to report what they are seeing. Fagen's mammoth work takes about 60 pages to arrive at a definition, Burghardt gets it done in only 30 pages.

With these caveats in mind, I will be adding Burghardt's condensed definition. Burghardt himself states there are caveats specific to the condensed version. Choor monster (talk) 17:02, 8 March 2013 (UTC)

"Waiting for Godot" is playing on Tuesday[edit]

Which of our definition covers the above use of "play"? --Taejo (talk) 18:24, 21 May 2014 (UTC)

The closest sense is "(transitive) To act or perform (a play)". We're missing a sense that covers intransitive usage. has "to be performed or shown: What's playing at the movie theater around the corner?", and also has some other senses we seem to lack: "(of an instrument or music) to sound in performance: The strings are playing well this evening" (contrasted with "(of a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to give forth sound: The radio played all night") and "to give performances in, as a theatrical company does: to play the larger cities". I'll see about editing our entry. - -sche (discuss) 19:25, 21 May 2014 (UTC)

play for sympathy / play for laughs[edit]

The OED has entries for these two. There may be more. I think we should be able to cover them here ("to handle a situation in a specified way"?) but am not quite sure how. Example from a book: "He played the lord of the manor, all right, but, it must be added, he usually played it for laughs." Equinox 02:52, 18 September 2014 (UTC)