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See also: Play



From Middle English pleyen, playen, pleȝen, plæien, also Middle English plaȝen, plawen (compare English plaw), from Old English pleġan, pleoġan, plæġan, and Old English plegian, pleagian, plagian (to play, exercise, etc.), from Proto-West Germanic *plehan (to care about, be concerned with) and Proto-West Germanic *plegōn (to engage, move); both perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *blek- (to move, move about), from Proto-Indo-European *bal- (compare Ancient Greek βλύω (blúō), βλύζω (blúzō, I gush out, spring), Sanskrit बल्बलीति (balbalīti, it whirls, twirls)).

The noun is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, plega, 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 plegian (to play); see above.


  • enPR: plā, IPA(key): /pleɪ/, [pl̥eɪ]
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪ


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 or entertainment.
    They played long and hard.
    • 2001, Sabloff, Annabelle, 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, p.52:
      We had to play for an hour, so that meant that we didn't have time to play and joke around.
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To perform in (a sport); to participate in (a game).
    Hypernym: try
    Hyponym: replay
    He plays on three teams
    Who's playing now?
    play football
    play sports
    play games
    1. (transitive) To compete against, in a game.
      We're playing one of the top teams in the next round.
      • 2011 November 12, “International friendly: England 1-0 Spain”, in 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.
    2. (transitive) (in the scoring of games and sports) To be the opposing score to.
      Look at the score now ... 23 plays 8!
  3. (intransitive) To take part in amorous activity; to make love.
    Synonyms: get it on, make out, have sex; see also Thesaurus:copulate
  4. To gamble.
    • 1791, Charlotte Smith, Celestina, Broadview 2004, p. 407:
      “I play, comparatively, very little; I don't drink a fifth part so much as half the people I live with; and I reckon myself, upon the whole, a very orderly, sober fellow.”
  5. (transitive) To act as the indicated role, especially in a performance.
    He plays the King, and she’s the Queen.
    No part of the brain plays the role of permanent memory.
    • 1984, Chris Robinson, commercial for Vicks Formula 44:
      I'm not a doctor, but I do play one on TV.
    • 2013 May-June, Katrina G. Claw, “Rapid Evolution in Eggs and Sperm”, in 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.
  6. (heading, transitive, intransitive) To produce music or theatre.
    1. (intransitive, of a music) To produce music.
      Synonyms: cook, jam; see also Thesaurus:play music
      • 2007, Dan Erlewine, Guitar Player Repair Guide, →ISBN, page 220:
        If your guitar plays well on fretted strings but annoys you on the open ones, the nut's probably worn out.
    2. (intransitive, especially of a person) To produce music using a musical instrument.
      I've practiced the piano off and on, but I still can't play very well.
    3. (transitive, especially of a person) To produce music (or a specified song or musical style) using (a specified musical instrument).
      I'll play the piano and you sing.
      Can you play an 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.
    4. (transitive, ergative) To use a device to watch or listen to the indicated recording.
      You can play the DVD now.
    5. (intransitive, of a theatrical performance) To be performed; (or of a film) to be shown.
      His latest film is playing in the local theatre tomorrow.
    6. (transitive, of a theatrical company or band, etc.) To perform in or at; to give performances in or at.
      • 2008, My Life: From Normandy to Hockeytown, →ISBN, page 30:
        I got a hold of Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong's agent and I explained to him on the phone that, "I know you're playing London on Wednesday night. Why don't you come and play the Arena in Windsor on Saturday night?"
    7. (transitive) To act or perform (a play).
      to play a comedy
  7. (heading) To behave in a particular way.
    1. (copulative) Contrary to fact, to give an appearance of being.
      • 1820, Walter Scott, Ivanhoe; a Romance. [], volume (please specify |volume=I, II, or III), Edinburgh: [] Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co. [], OCLC 230694662:
        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, p.194:
        Instead, they played dumb, remained silent, and did their classwork.
    2. (intransitive) To act with levity or thoughtlessness; to trifle; to be careless.
      • a. 1700, William Temple, “Of Health and Long-life”, in Miscellanea. The Third Part. [...], London: [] Jonathan Swift, [] Benjamin Tooke, [], published 1701, OCLC 23640974, page 167:
        Thus Men are apt to play with their Healths and their Lives as they do with their Cloaths: [...]
    3. (intransitive) To act; to behave; to practice deception.
    4. (transitive) To bring into sportive or wanton action; to exhibit in action; to execute.
      to play tricks
    5. (African-American Vernacular, intransitive) To kid; to joke; say something for amusement.
      • 2016, Styles, T., “seventeen”, in Clown Niggas[1], United States of America: The Cartel Publications, →ISBN, LCCN 2016942703, page 161:
        He grew serious. “Sorry, E.M. Just fucking around.”
        “Well, I don’t play like that and you know it.”
  8. (transitive, intransitive) To move in any manner; especially, to move regularly with alternate or reciprocating motion; to operate.
    The fountain plays.
    He played the torch beam around the room.
    • 1705, George Cheyne, Philosophical Principles of Religion:
      The heart beats, the blood circulates, the lungs play.
    • 1908, W[illiam] B[lair] M[orton] Ferguson, chapter I, in Zollenstein, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 731476803:
      The colonel and his sponsor made a queer contrast: Greystone [the sponsor] long and stringy, with a face that seemed as if a cold wind was eternally playing on it.
    • 1972, Ian Anderson (lyrics), “Thick As A Brick”, performed by Jethro Tull:
      The Poet and the Painter
      Casting shadows on the water
      As the sun plays on the infantry
      Returning from the sea.
  9. (intransitive) To move to and fro.
  10. (transitive) To put in action or motion.
    to play cannon upon a fortification
    to play a trump in a card game
  11. (transitive) To keep in play, as a hooked fish in order to land it.
  12. (transitive, colloquial) To manipulate, deceive, or swindle someone.
    Synonym: defraud
    You played me!
    • 2020, “Ballad Of You & I”, performed by Hotel Lux:
      If this our song, you're the composer
      I'm not a game, but you play me anyway



The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


play (countable and uncountable, plural plays)

  1. (uncountable, formerly countable) Activity for amusement only, especially among the young.
    Children learn through play.
    • 1817 December, [Jane Austen], Northanger Abbey; published in Northanger Abbey: And Persuasion. [], volume (please specify |volume=I or II), London: John Murray, [], 1818, OCLC 318384910:
      She was fond of all boys' plays, and greatly preferred cricket [] to dolls []
  2. (uncountable) Similar activity in young animals, as they explore their environment and learn new skills.
    This kind of play helps the young lion cubs develop their hunting skills.
  3. (uncountable) The conduct, or course, of a game.
    Play was very slow in the first half.
    After the rain break, play resumed at 3 o'clock.
    The game was abandoned after 20 minutes' play
  4. (uncountable) An individual's performance in a sport or game.
    His play has improved a lot this season.
  5. (countable) A short sequence of action within a game.
    That was a great play by the Mudchester Rovers forward.
  6. (countable, turn-based games) An action carried out when it is one's turn to play.
    Synonym: move
    • 2009, Joe Edley, John Williams, Everything Scrabble: Third Edition (page 85)
      AWARD is better than either WARED or WADER. However, there's an even better play! If you have looked at the two-to-make-three letter list, you may have noticed the word AWA.
  7. (countable) A literary composition, intended to be represented by actors impersonating the characters and speaking the dialogue.
    Synonyms: drama; see also Thesaurus:drama
    This book contains all of Shakespeare's plays.
  8. (countable) A theatrical performance featuring actors.
    We saw a two-act play in the theatre.
  9. (countable) An attempt to move forward, as in a plan or strategy, for example by a business, investor, or political party.
    ABC Widgets makes a play in the bicycle market with its bid to take over Acme Sprockets.
    Turpin signals the Metric Party's long-term play for housing reform
  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, as for example lash, backlash, or slack.
    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 activity or 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
    • 2013, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Best Bondage Erotica 2014:
      There were none of the usual restrictions on public nudity or sexual interaction in the club environment. Still, the night was young, and as he'd made his way to the bar to order Mistress Ramona a gin and tonic, he'd seen little in the way of play.
    • 2014, Jiri T. Servant, Facts About Bondage - Bondage Guide For Beginners:
      This type of play allows some people to relax and enjoy being given pleasure without having to think about giving pleasure back at the same time.
  13. (countable) An instance of watching or listening to digital media.
    Synonyms: (of visual media) view, (of audio) listen
    • 2014 December 3, Victor Luckerson, “These Were Spotify's Most-Streamed Songs This Year”, in Time[2]:
      The most-streamed artist of the year was British singer Ed Sheeran, who amassed 860 million plays with hits like “I See Fire.”
  14. (countable) A button that, when pressed, causes media to be played.
  15. (archaic, now usually in compounds) Activity relating to martial combat or fighting.
    handplay, swordplay


Derived terms[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg play on Wikipedia.Wikipedia
  • play at OneLook Dictionary Search
  • play in The Century Dictionary, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., 1911




Borrowed from English play, possibly via Japanese プレイ (purei).


Phonetik.svg This entry needs pronunciation information. If you are familiar with the IPA then please add some!



  1. play (sexual roleplaying)
    羞恥play羞耻play  ―  xiūchǐ play  ―  erotic humiliation
    女裝play女装play  ―  nǚzhuāng play  ―  crossdressing
    各種奇怪play各种奇怪play  ―  gèzhǒng qíguài de play  ―  all kinds of strange sexual roleplaying



Unadapted borrowing from English play.



play m (invariable)

  1. play (theatrical performance; start key)



  1. used to announce the start a game of tennis


  1. ^ play in Luciano Canepari, Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana (DiPI)



Borrowed from English play.


play m (plural playes)

  1. play (button)

Related terms[edit]