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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English, borrowed from Middle French pli (pleat, fold), from plier (bend, fold), from Latin plicō (I fold, I fold together).


ply (countable and uncountable, plural plys or plies)

  1. A layer of material.
    two-ply toilet paper
    • 1999, VLSI Design '99
      It is possible to have a very well load balanced partition but with such a high ply that its slowest piece is slower than a not-so-well balanced partition with less ply.
  2. A strand that, twisted together with other strands, makes up yarn or rope.
  3. (colloquial) Plywood.
  4. (artificial intelligence, combinatorial game theory) In two-player sequential games, a "half-turn", or one move made by one of the players.
    He proposed to build Deep Purple, a super-computer capable of 24-ply look-ahead for chess.
  5. (now chiefly Scotland) State, condition.
    • 1749, John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Penguin 1985, p. 66:
      You may be sure, in the ply I was now taking, I had no objection to the proposal, and was rather a-tiptoe for its accomplishment.


Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English plien (bend, fold, mold), borrowed from Middle French plier (bend, fold), see Etymology 1.


ply (third-person singular simple present plies, present participle plying, simple past and past participle plied)

  1. (transitive) To bend; to fold.
  2. (intransitive) To flex.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Middle English plien, short for applien (apply)


ply (third-person singular simple present plies, present participle plying, simple past and past participle plied)

  1. (transitive) To work at diligently.
    He plied his trade as carpenter for forty-three years.
    • 1595, George Peele, The Old Wives’ Tale, The Malone Society Reprints, 1908, line 720,[2]
      Ply you your work or else you are like to smart.
    • 1666, Edmund Waller, Instructions to the Painter for the Drawing of the Posture & Progress of His Majesties Forces at Sea, London: Henry Herringman, p. 13,[3]
      Their bloody Task, unwearied, still they ply,
      Only restrain’d by Death, or Victory:
    • 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque:
      Many who have "plied their book diligently," and know all about some one branch or another of accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all the better and brighter parts of life.
  2. (intransitive, archaic) To work diligently.
    • 1644, John Milton, Of Education, London: Thomas Underhill, p. 4,[4]
      Ere halfe these Authors be read, which will soon be with plying hard and dayly, they cannot choose but be masters of any ordinary prose.
    • 1711, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, Volume 2, Number 94, 18 June, 1711,[5]
      He was afterwards reduced to great Want, and forced to think of plying in the Streets as a Porter for his Livelihood.
  3. (transitive) To use vigorously.
    He plied his ax with bloody results.
  4. (transitive) To travel over regularly.
    ply the seven seas
    A steamer plies between certain ports.
  5. (transitive) To persist in offering something to.
    to ply someone with drink
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Volume 2, Book 8, Chapter 12, p. 162,[6]
      [] the true Gamesters pretended to be ill, and refused their Glass, while they plied heartily two young Fellows, who were to be afterwards pillaged, as indeed they were without Mercy.
    • 1929, M. Barnard Eldershaw, A House Is Built, Chapter VII, Section vi
      Esther began [] to cry. But when the fire had been lit specially to warm her chilled limbs and Adela had plied her with hot negus she began to feel rather a heroine.
  6. (transitive) To press upon; to urge importunately.
    to ply someone with questions, with solicitations
  7. (transitive) To employ diligently; to use steadily.
  8. (nautical) To work to windward; to beat.

Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for ply in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)