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Etymology 1[edit]

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


ply (countable and uncountable, plural 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, 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), a borrowing 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.
    • L'Estrange
      The willow plied, and gave way to the gust.
  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.
    • Waller
      Their bloody task, unwearied, still they ply.
  2. (intransitive) To work diligently.
    • Milton
      Ere half these authors be read (which will soon be with plying hard and daily).
    • Addison
      He was forced to ply in the streets as a porter.
  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.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
      [] 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. To press upon; to urge importunately.
    to ply one with questions, with solicitations, or with drink
    • Shakespeare
      He plies the duke at morning and at night.
  7. To employ diligently; to use steadily.
    • Shakespeare
      Go ply thy needle; meddle not.
  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.