• enPR: plā, IPA: /pleɪ/, [pl̥eɪ]

play (plays, present participle playing; 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.
    • 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).
    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 on, make out, have sex, Thesaurus:copulate
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, II.iv:
      Her proper face / I not descerned in that darkesome shade, / But weend it was my loue, with whom he playd.
  4. (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.
  5. (heading, transitive, intransitive) To produce music or theatre.
    1. (intransitive, of a, musical instrument) To produce music.
      Synonyms: cook, jam, Thesaurus:play music
      • 2007, Dan Erlewine, Guitar Player Repair Guide ISBN 0879309210, 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 0966412087, p.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
  6. (heading) To behave in a particular way.
    1. (copulative) Contrary to fact, to give an appearance of being.
      • 1820, Walter Scott, Ivanhoe; a Romance. [...] In Three Volumes, volume (please specify ), Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co. […], OCLC 230694662 ↗:
      • 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.
      • Men are apt to play with their healths.
    3. (intransitive) To act; to behave; to practice deception.
      • c. 1596–1598, William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358 ↗, [Act I, scene ii]:
        His mother played false with a smith.
    4. (transitive) To bring into sportive or wanton action; to exhibit in action; to execute.
      to play tricks
      • 1667, John Milton, “Book 5”, in Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books, London: Printed [by Samuel Simmons], and are to be sold by Peter Parker […] [a]nd by Robert Boulter […] [a]nd Matthias Walker, […], OCLC 228722708 ↗; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: The Text Exactly Reproduced from the First Edition of 1667: […], London: Basil Montagu Pickering […], 1873, OCLC 230729554 ↗:
        Nature here / Wantoned as in her prime, and played at will / Her virgin fancies.
      • 1920, Mary Roberts Rinehart; Avery Hopwood, chapter I, in The Bat: A Novel from the Play (Dell Book; 241), New York, N.Y.: Dell Publishing Company, OCLC 20230794 ↗, [;view=1up;seq=5 page 01]:
        The Bat—they called him the Bat. […]. He'd never been in stir, the bulls had never mugged him, he didn't run with a mob, he played a lone hand, and fenced his stuff so that even the fence couldn't swear he knew his face.
  7. (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.
    • 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.
  8. (intransitive) To move to and fro.
    • c. 1590–1592, William Shakespeare, “The Taming of the Shrew”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358 ↗, [Act INDUCTION, scene ii]:
      the waving sedges play with wind
    • 1713, Joseph Addison, Cato, published 1712, [Act 5, scene 1]:
      The setting sun / Plays on their shining arms and burnished helmets.
    • 1733, [Alexander Pope], An Essay on Man. […], (please specify ), London: Printed for J[ohn] Wilford, […], OCLC 960856019 ↗:
  9. (transitive) To put in action or motion.
    to play cannon upon a fortification
    to play a trump in a card game
  10. (transitive) To keep in play, as a hooked fish in order to land it.
  11. (transitive, colloquial) To manipulate, deceive, or swindle someone.
    Synonyms: defraud
    You played me!