Meaning of “play” in the English Dictionary

"play" in English

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uk /pleɪ/ us /pleɪ/

play verb (ENJOY)

A1 [ I ] When you play, especially as a child, you spend time doing an enjoyable and/or entertaining activity:

The children spent the afternoon playing with their new toys.
My daughter used to play with the kids next door.

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play verb (GAME)

A1 [ I or T ] to take part in a game or other organized activity:

Do you want to play cards/football (with us)?
Irene won't be able to play in the tennis match on Saturday.
Which team do you play for?
Luke plays centre-forward (= plays in that position within the team).

B1 [ T ] to compete against a person or team in a game:

Who are the Giants playing next week?

[ T ] to hit or kick a ball in a game:

He played the ball back to the goalkeeper.
A good pool player takes time deciding which shot to play.

[ T ] (in a card game) to choose a card from the ones you are holding and put it down on the table:

She played the ace of spades.

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play verb (ACT)

B1 [ I or T ] to perform an entertainment or a particular character in a play, film, etc.:

Scottish Opera played to full houses every night.
I didn't realize that "Macbeth" was playing (= being performed) at the festival.
In the movie version, Branagh played the hero.

[ T ] to behave or pretend in a particular way, especially in order to produce a particular effect or result:

to play dead/dumb
Would you mind playing host (= entertaining the guests)?
play a joke/trick

B2 to deceive someone to make them laugh or in order to get an advantage over them:

She loves playing practical jokes on her friends.
play a part

B2 to help to achieve something:

My thanks to everyone who has played a part in saving the hospital.

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A2 [ I or T ] to perform music on an instrument or instruments:

He learned to play the clarinet at the age of ten.
[ + two objects ] Play us a song!/Play a song for us!
On Radio London they play African and South American music as well as rock and pop.
They could hear a jazz band playing in the distance.

A2 [ I or T ] to (cause a machine to) produce sound or a picture:

Play the last few minutes of the video again.
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uk /pleɪ/ us /pleɪ/

play noun (ACTING)

A2 [ C ] a piece of writing that is intended to be acted in a theatre or on radio or television:

a radio play
"Did you see the play (= the performance of the play) on Thursday?" "No, I went on Wednesday night."

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play noun (GAME)

[ U ] the activity of taking part in a sport or a game:

Rain stopped play during the final of the National Tennis Championship.

[ C ] US a plan or a small set of actions in a sport:

The new pitcher made a great play on that throw to first base.
in/out of play

If a ball is in/out of play, it is/is not in a position where it can be hit, kicked, or thrown:

The ball had gone out of play.
She managed to keep the ball in play.

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play noun (ENJOYMENT)

B2 [ U ] activity that is not serious but done for enjoyment, especially when children enjoy themselves with toys and games:

The kids don't get much time for play in the evenings.
We watched the children at play in the park.

(Definition of “play” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"play" in American English

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us /pleɪ/

play verb (ENJOY)

[ I ] to spend time doing something enjoyable or amusing:

The children spent the afternoon playing.

play verb (COMPETE)

[ I/T ] to take part in a game or other organized activity:

[ T ] He loves playing football.
[ I ] What team does she play for?

[ I/T ] If you play a person or team, you compete against them:

[ T ] We’re going to the stadium to see New York play Chicago.

[ I/T ] If you play the ball or a shot, you hit or kick the ball:

[ T ] In golf, you have to take time to decide how to play difficult shots.

[ I/T ] In a card game, to play a card is to choose it from the ones you are holding and put it down on the table.

play verb (ACT)

to perform as a character in a play or movie, or (of a performance) to be shown:

[ T ] She played the part of a beautiful and brilliant scientist.
[ I ] What’s playing at (= being shown at) the local movie theaters?

To play is also to behave or pretend in a particular way, esp. to produce an effect or result:

[ L ] Don’t play dumb with me (= pretend you don’t know anything) – you know very well what happened!

To play can mean to influence or have an effect on:

[ T ] The president denied that politics played any part in his decision to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court.
play a joke on someone also play a trick on someone

To play a joke on someone or play a trick on someone is to deceive someone for amusement or in order to get an advantage:

She loves to play jokes on her friends.


[ I/T ] to perform music on an instrument, or to cause something that produces sound or a picture to operate:

[ I/T ] She plays (the piano) beautifully.
[ T ] I was just playing my stereo.
I learned how toplay the guitar by ear (= by listening rather than by reading music).

play verb (RISK MONEY)

[ T ] to risk money, esp. on the results of races or business deals, hoping to win money:

He plays the stock market.


us /pleɪ/

play noun (ACT)

literature [ C ] a story that is intended to be acted out before people who have come to see it:

She starred in many Broadway plays in her career.

play noun (COMPETE)

in play also out of play

If a ball or something else is in play, it is in a position where it can be used as part of the regular action in a game or sport, and if it is out of play, it is not in such a position:

[ U ] She put the ball in play in midfield.

In sports, a play can also be a particular action or a plan for a specific set of actions:

[ C ] The school football team has been practicing new plays all week.


(Definition of “play” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"play" in Business English

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uk /pleɪ/ us
have money/time, etc. to play with

to have money, time, etc. available to use:

Swelling tax receipts have given the government more money to play with over the last two years.
play by the rules

to obey the rules of a particular system:

Workers should not be relegated to poverty if they work hard and play by the rules.
play by your own rules

to do things in the way that you want, rather than obeying the rules of a particular system:

Large multinational corporations often play by their own rules.
play catch up

to try to be as successful as other people, companies, etc.:

The firm has adapted quickly to changes in the global market, leaving its rivals to play catch up.
play for high stakes

to take big risks in order to achieve something that you really want:

The Prime Minister is playing for high stakes, at the risk of alienating public opinion.
play (it) safe

to decide not to take risks:

The federal government often plays it safe by funding research that is likely to succeed but may have only a slight impact.
The biggest companies usually play safe and hire top legal firms from London or New York.
play the (money/stock) market

FINANCE to trade shares, bonds, etc., especially in order to make money quickly, rather than to invest over a longer period:

play a key/major/important role/part (in sth) also have a key/major/important role/part to play (in sth)

to have a lot of power or influence in a particular situation:

His financial expertise played a major role in London City airport's development.
IT had a key part to play in modernizing the organization.
play the system

to use a set of rules or laws in order to get an advantage for yourself, in a way that may not be fair:

If you know how to play the system, there are various legal loopholes to be exploited.
play to your strengths

to do things that you know you are good at:

In business, you sometimes have to follow your instincts and play to your strengths.


uk /pleɪ/ us

[ C ] FINANCE the act of trading shares, bonds, etc.:

Institutional investors remained on the sidelines, refusing to make any big plays until a definite announcement is made.
be at play

to have an influence in a situation:

Many issues are at play here, including the impact on the environment.
be in play

FINANCE if a company or its shares are in play, they may be bought by other companies or shareholders:

In a corporate-driven deal environment, even "untouchable" bank stocks could be in play.
bring/call sth into play

to start to use something for a particular purpose:

Special computer software programs were brought into play during the vote recount.
come into play

to begin to have an influence on something:

New federal pension laws have come into play that could affect the retirement security of many of our employees.
make a play for sth

to try to get control of something:

The government has been accused of making a play for online betting tax revenues.

See also

(Definition of “play” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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