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From Middle English playen, pleyen, pleȝen, plæien, also Middle English plaȝen, plawen (> English plaw), from Old English pleġan, pleoġan, plæġan, and Old English pleġian, pleaġian, plagian (to play, move about sportively, frolic, dance; move rapidly; divert or amuse oneself, occupy or busy oneself; play a game, sport with, exercise, exercise one’s self in any way for the sake of amusement; play with; play with a person, toy; strive after; play on an instrument; contend, fight; clap the hands, applaud; make sport of, mock; cohabit (with)), from Proto-Germanic *pleganą, *plehaną (to care about, be concerned with) and Proto-Germanic *plegōną (to engage, move); both perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *blek- (to move, move about), from Proto-Indo-European *bal- (compare Ancient Greek βλύω (bluō), βλύζω (bluzō, I gush out, spring), Sanskrit बल्बलीति (balbalīti, it whirls, twirls)). Cognate with Scots play (to act or move briskly, cause to move, stir), Saterland Frisian plegia (to look after, care for, maintain), West Frisian pleegje, pliigje (to commit, perform, bedrive), Middle Dutch pleyen ("to dance, leap for joy, rejoice, be glad"; > Modern Dutch pleien (to play a particular children's game)), Dutch plegen (to commit, bedrive, practice), German pflegen (to care for, be concerned with, attend to, tend), Danish pleie (to tend to, nurse), Swedish pläga (to be wont to, be accustomed to). Related also to Old English plēon (to risk, endanger). More at plight, pledge.

The noun is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, pleġa, plæġa (play, quick motion, movement, exercise; (athletic) sport, game; festivity, drama; battle; gear for games, an implement for a game; clapping with the hands, applause), deverbative of pleġian (to play); see above.



play (third-person singular simple present plays, present participle playing, simple past and past participle played)

  1. (intransitive) To act in a manner such that one has fun; to engage in activities expressly for the purpose of recreation.
    • 2001, Annabelle Sabloff, Reordering the Natural World, Univ. of Toronto Press, page 83:
      A youngster...listed some of the things his pet did not do: ...go on vacation, play in the same way that he did with his friends, and so on.
    • 2003, Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont et al. (eds.), Joining Society: Social Interaction and Learning in Adolescence and Youth, Cambridge Univ. Press, page 52:
      We had to play for an hour, so that meant that we didn't have time to play and joke around.
    They played long and hard.
  2. (intransitive) To take part in amorous activity; to make love, fornicate; to have sex.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, II.iv:
      Her proper face / I not descerned in that darkesome shade, / But weend it was my loue, with whom he playd.
  3. (intransitive) To perform in a sport.
    he plays on three teams; who's playing now?
  4. (transitive) To participate in the game indicated.
    play football;  play sports;  play games
  5. (transitive) To compete against, in a game
    • 2011 November 12, “International friendly: England 1-0 Spain”, BBC Sport:
      England will not be catapulted among the favourites for Euro 2012 as a result of this win, but no victory against Spain is earned easily and it is right they take great heart from their efforts as they now prepare to play Sweden at Wembley on Tuesday.
  6. (transitive) To act as the indicated role, especially in a performance.
    • 2013 May-June, Katrina G. Claw, “Rapid Evolution in Eggs and Sperm”, American Scientist, volume 101, number 3: 
      In plants, the ability to recognize self from nonself plays an important role in fertilization, because self-fertilization will result in less diverse offspring than fertilization with pollen from another individual.
    He plays the King, and she's the Queen.
    No part of the brain plays the role of permanent memory.
  7. (intransitive) To produce music using a musical instrument.
    I've practiced the piano off and on, and I still can't play very well.
  8. (transitive, ergative) To produce music on the indicated musical instrument.
    I'll play the piano and you sing;  can you play an instrument?
  9. (transitive, ergative) To produce music, the indicated song or style, with a musical instrument.
    we especially like to play jazz together;  play a song for me;  do you know how to play Für Elise?;  my son thinks he can play music
  10. (transitive, ergative) To use a device to watch or listen to the indicated recording.
    You can play the DVD now.
  11. (copulative) Contrary to fact, to give an appearance of being.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Sir Walter Scott
      Thou canst play the rational if thou wilt.
    • 1985, Sharon S Brehm, Intimate Relationships
      Playing hard to get is not the same as slamming the door in someone's face.
    • 1996, Michael P Malone, James J Hill: Empire Builder of the Northwest
      Now, surveying his final link, he had the nice advantage of being able to play coy with established port cities that desperately wanted his proven railroad.
    • 2003, John U. Ogbu, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement, page 194
      Instead, they played dumb, remained silent, and did their classwork.
  12. (intransitive) To act with levity or thoughtlessness; to trifle; to be careless.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Sir W. Temple
      Men are apt to play with their healths.
  13. (intransitive) To act; to behave; to practice deception.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Shakespeare
      His mother played false with a smith.
  14. (intransitive) To move in any manner; especially, to move regularly with alternate or reciprocating motion; to operate.
    The fountain plays.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Cheyne
      The heart beats, the blood circulates, the lungs play.
  15. (intransitive) To move gaily; to disport.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Shakespeare
      even as the waving sedges play with wind
    • (Can we date this quote?) Addison
      The setting sun / Plays on their shining arms and burnished helmets.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Alexander Pope
      All fame is foreign but of true desert, / Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart.
  16. (transitive) To put in action or motion.
    to play cannon upon a fortification
    to play a trump in a card game
  17. (transitive) To bring into sportive or wanton action; to exhibit in action; to execute.
    to play tricks
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      Nature here / Wantoned as in her prime, and played at will / Her virgin fancies.
  18. (transitive) To act or perform (a play).
    to play a comedy
  19. (transitive) To keep in play, as a hooked fish, in order to land it.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.


play (countable and uncountable, plural plays)

  1. (uncountable) Activity for amusement only, especially among the young.
  2. (uncountable) Similar activity, in young animals, as they explore their environment and learn new skills.
  3. (uncountable, ethology) "Repeated, incompletely functional behavior differing from more serious versions ..., and initiated voluntarily when ... in a low-stress setting."
  4. The conduct, or course of a game.
  5. (countable) An individual's performance in a sport or game.
  6. (countable) (turn-based games) An action carried out when it is one's turn to play.
  7. (countable) A literary composition, intended to be represented by actors impersonating the characters and speaking the dialogue.
  8. (countable) A theatrical performance featuring actors.
    We saw a two-act play in the theatre.
  9. (countable) A major move by a business.
  10. (countable) A geological formation that contains an accumulation or prospect of hydrocarbons or other resources.
  11. (uncountable) The extent to which a part of a mechanism can move freely.
    No wonder the fanbelt is slipping: there’s too much play in it.
    Too much play in a steering wheel may be dangerous.
  12. (uncountable, informal) Sexual role-playing.
    • 1996, Sabrina P Ramet, Gender reversals and gender cultures
      The rarity of male domination in fantasy play is readily explained.
    • 1996, "toptigger", (on Internet newsgroup alt.personals.spanking.punishment)
      Palm Springs M seeks sane F 4 safe bdsm play
  13. (countable) A button that, when pressed, causes media to be played.



Derived terms[edit]

See also[edit]

Wikipedia has an article on:







play m (invariable)

  1. play (theatrical performance; start key)



  1. used to start a game of Tennis