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From Middle English pleyenplayenpleȝenplæien, also Middle English plaȝenplawen (compare English plaw), from Old English pleġanpleoġanplæġan, and Old English plegianpleagianplagian (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 (blúzōI gush out, spring)Sanskrit बल्बलीति (balbalītiit whirls, twirls)). Cognate with Scots play (to act or move briskly, cause to move, stir)Saterland Frisian pleegje (to look after, care for, maintain)West Frisian pleegjepliigje (to commit, perform, bedrive)Middle Dutch pleyen (“to dance, leap for joy, rejoice, be glad”; compare 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). Related also to Old English plēon (to risk, endanger). More at plightpledge.

The noun is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġplegaplæġa (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]


play (third-person singular simple present playspresent participle playingsimple 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.
  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.
    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 onmake outhave sexsee also Thesaurus:copulate
  4. To gamble.
  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.
  6. (heading, transitive, intransitive) To produce music or theatre.
    1. (intransitive, of a music) To produce music.
    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. quotations ▼
    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.
    2. (intransitive) To act with levity or thoughtlessness; to trifle; to be careless.
    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
  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.
  9. (intransitive) To move to and from.
  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!


play (countable and uncountableplural plays)

  1. (uncountable, formerly countable) Activity for amusement only, especially among the young.
    Children learn through play.
  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
  7. (countable) A literary composition, intended to be represented by actors impersonating the characters and speaking the dialogue.
    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 makesplay 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.
    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.
  13. (countable) An instance of watching or listening to digital media.
    Synonyms: (of visual media) view(of audio) listen
  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.
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