to take part in a game or other organized activity
Do you want to play cards/football ( with us)?
verb (plays, playing, played )
1 to have fun; to do something to enjoy yourself:
The children were playing with their toys.
2 to take part in a game:
I like playing tennis.
Do you know how to play chess?
3 to make music with a musical instrument:
My sister plays the piano very well.
Note that we usually say 'play the violin, the piano, etc.': I'm learning to play the clarinet.
4 to put a record, CD, DVD, etc. in a machine and listen to it:
Shall I play the CD again?
5 to act the part of somebody in a play:
Who wants to play the policeman?
I. play1 S1 W1 /pleɪ/ BrE AmE verb
[Word Family: noun: ↑play, ↑interplay, ↑replay, ↑player, ↑playfulness; verb: ↑play, ↑outplay, ↑replay; adjective: ↑playful, ↑playable; adverb: ↑playfully]
[Language: Old English; Origin: plegan]
1. CHILDREN [intransitive and transitive] when children play, they do things that they enjoy, often with other people or with toys:
Kids were playing and chasing each other.
play catch/house/tag/school etc
Outside, the children were playing cowboys and Indians.
Did you like to play with dolls when you were little?
Parents need to spend time just playing with their children.
a) [intransitive and transitive] to take part or compete in a game or sport:
Karen began playing basketball when she was six.
If you feel any pain, you shouldn’t play.
Men were sitting in the park, playing cards.
Bristol will play against Coventry next week.
She’s playing Helen Evans in the semi-final (=playing against her).
Moxon played for England in ten test matches.
b) [transitive] to use a particular piece, card, person etc in a game or sport:
Harrison played a ten of spades.
The Regents played Eddie at center (=used him as a player in that position) in the game against Arizona.
c) [intransitive and transitive] to take a particular position on a team:
Garvey played first base for the Dodgers.
d) [transitive] to hit a ball in a particular way or to a particular place in a game or sport:
She played the ball low, just over the net.
MUSIC [intransitive and transitive]
to perform a piece of music on a musical instrument:
He’s learning to play the piano.
She played a Bach prelude.
Haden has played with many jazz greats.
A small orchestra was playing.
4. RADIO/CD ETC [intransitive and transitive] if a radio, CD etc plays, or if you play it, it produces sound, especially music:
The bedside radio played softly.
play a record/CD/tape etc
DJs playing the latest house and techno tracks
a) [transitive] to perform the actions and say the words of a particular character in a theatre performance, film etc:
Streep plays a shy, nervous woman.
play a role/part/character etc
Playing a character so different from herself was a challenge.
b) [intransitive] if a play or film is playing at a particular theatre, it is being performed or shown there:
‘Macbeth’ is playing at the Theatre Royal in York.
c) [transitive] if actors play a theatre, they perform there in a play
6. play a part/role to have an effect or influence on something
play a part/role in
A good diet and fitness play a large part in helping people live longer.
7. play ball
a) to throw, kick, hit, or catch a ball as a game or activity:
Jim and Karl were playing ball in the backyard.
b) to do what someone wants you to do:
So far, the company has refused to play ball, preferring to remain independent.
8. PRETEND [linking verb] to behave as if you are a particular kind of person or have a particular feeling or quality, even though it is not true:
the accusation that scientists are playing God
Some snakes fool predators by playing dead.
‘What do you mean?’ ‘Don’t play dumb (=pretend you do not know something).'
Don’t play the innocent (=pretend you do not know about something) with me – we both know what happened.
play the idiot/the teacher etc
Susan felt she had to play the good wife.
He played the fool (=behaved in a silly way) at school instead of working.
9. BEHAVE [transitive always + adverb/preposition] to behave in a particular way in a situation, in order to achieve the result or effect that you want:
How do you want to play this meeting?
Play it safe (=avoid risks) and make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked.
play it carefully/cool etc
If you like him, play it cool, or you might scare him off.
10. play games to hide your real feelings or wishes in order to achieve something in a clever or secret way – used to show disapproval:
Stop playing games, Luke, and tell me what you want.
11. play something by ear
a) to decide what to do according to the way a situation develops, without making plans before that time:
We’ll see what the weather’s like and play it by ear.
b) if someone can play a musical instrument by ear, they can play a tune without looking at written music
12. play a joke/trick/prank on somebody to do something to someone as a joke or trick
13. play the game
a) to do things in the way you are expected to do them or in a way that is usual in a particular situation:
If you want a promotion, you’ve got to play the game.
b) British English to behave in a fair and honest way
14. play the race/nationalist/environmentalist etc card to use a particular subject in politics in order to gain an advantage:
a leader who is skilfully playing the nationalist card to keep power
15. play your cards right to say or do things in a situation in such a way that you gain as much as possible from it:
Who knows? If you play your cards right, maybe he’ll marry you.
16. play your cards close to your chest to keep secret what you are doing in a situation
17. play into sb’s hands to do what someone you are competing with wants you to do, without realizing it:
If we respond with violence, we’ll be playing into their hands, giving them an excuse for a fight.
18. play for time to try to delay something so that you have more time to prepare for it or prevent it from happening:
The rebels may be playing for time while they try to get more weapons.
19. play tricks (on you) if your mind, memory, sight etc plays tricks on you, you feel confused and not sure about what is happening:
It happened a long time ago, and my memory might be playing tricks on me.
20. play the market to risk money on the ↑stock market as a way of trying to earn more money
21. play the system to use the rules of a system in a clever way, to gain advantage for yourself:
Accountants know how to play the tax system.
22. play second fiddle (to somebody) to be in a lower position or rank than someone else
23. play hard to get to pretend that you are not sexually interested in someone so that they will become more interested in you
24. SMILE [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written if a smile plays about someone’s lips, they smile slightly
25. play hooky American English, play truant British English to stay away from school without permission
26. play with fire to do something that could have a very dangerous or harmful result:
Dating the boss’s daughter is playing with fire.
27. play to your strengths to do what you are able to do well, rather than trying to do other things:
It is up to us to play to our strengths and try to control the game.
28. LIGHT [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written if light plays on something, it shines on it and moves on it:
the sunlight playing on the water
29. WATER [intransitive] written if a ↑fountain plays, water comes from it
30. play a hose/light on something to point a ↑hose or light towards something so that water or light goes onto it
31. play the field to have sexual relationships with a lot of different people
32. play fast and loose with something to not be careful about what you do, especially by not obeying the law or a rule:
They played fast and loose with investors’ money.
33. play happy families British English to spend time with your family, doing normal things, especially so that your family appears to be happy when it is not
play around (also play about British English) phrasal verb
1. to have a sexual relationship with someone who is not your usual partner
play around with
Wasn’t she playing around with another man?
It was years before I realized he’d been playing around.
2. to try doing something in different ways, to see what would be best, especially when this is fun
play around with
Play around with the ingredients if you like.
3. to behave in a silly way or waste time, when you should be doing something more serious SYN fool around:
When the teacher wasn’t looking, we used to play about a lot.
play around with something (also play about with somethingBritish English) phrasal verb
to keep moving or making changes to something in your hands SYN fiddle with:
Will you stop playing around with the remote control!
play along phrasal verb
1. to pretend to agree to do what someone wants, in order to avoid annoying them or to get an advantage:
She felt she had to play along or risk losing her job.
2. play somebody along British English to tell someone something that is not true because you need their help in some way
play at something phrasal verb
1. What is somebody playing at? British English spoken used when you do not understand what someone is doing or why they are doing it, and you are surprised or annoyed:
What do you think you’re playing at?
2. if you play at doing something, you do not do it properly or seriously
play at doing something
He’s still playing at being an artist.
3. British English if children play at doctors, soldiers etc, they pretend to be doctors, soldiers etc
play at being something
a 14-year-old playing at being a grown woman
play something ↔ back phrasal verb
to play something that has been recorded on a machine so that you can listen to it or watch it:
He played back his answering machine messages.
play something ↔ down phrasal verb
to try to make something seem less important or less likely than it really is:
Management has been playing down the possibility of job losses.
play down the importance/seriousness/significance of something
The White House spokeswoman sought to play down the significance of the event.
play off phrasal verb
1. British English if people or teams play off, they play the last game in a sports competition, in order to decide who is the winner:
The top two teams will play off at Twickenham for the county title.
2. play off somebody/something American English to deliberately use a fact, action, idea etc in order to make what you are doing better or to get an advantage:
The two musicians played off each other in a piece of inspired improvisation.
play somebody off against somebody phrasal verb
to encourage one person or group to compete or argue with another, in order to get some advantage for yourself:
The house seller may try to play one buyer off against another, to raise the price.
play on/upon something phrasal verb
to use a feeling, fact, or idea in order to get what you want, often in an unfair way:
The ad plays on our emotions, showing a doctor holding a newborn baby.
play something ↔ out phrasal verb
1. if an event or situation is played out or plays itself out, it happens:
It will be interesting to see how the election plays itself out.
2. if people play out their dreams, feelings etc, they express them by pretending that a particular situation is really happening:
The weekend gives you a chance to play out your fantasies.
play up phrasal verb
1. play something ↔ up to emphasize something, sometimes making it seem more important than it really is:
Play up your strongest arguments in the opening paragraph.
2. play (somebody) up British English informal if children play up, they behave badly:
Jordan’s been playing up in school.
I hope the kids don’t play you up.
3. play (somebody) up British English informal to hurt you or cause problems for you:
My knee’s been playing me up this week.
The car’s playing up again.
play up to somebody phrasal verb
to behave in a very polite or kind way to someone because you want something from them:
Connie always plays up to her parents when she wants money.
play with somebody/something phrasal verb
1. to keep touching something or moving it:
Stop playing with the light switch!
2. to try doing something in different ways to decide what works best:
Play with the design onscreen, moving text and pictures until you get a pleasing arrangement.
3. to consider an idea or possibility, but not always very seriouslySYN toy with:
After university, I played with the idea of teaching English in China.
4. money/time/space etc to play with money, time etc that is available to be used:
The budget is very tight, so there isn’t much money to play with.
5. play with yourself to touch your own sex organs for pleasureSYN masturbate
6. play with words/language to use words in a clever or amusing way
play [play plays played playing] verb, noun [pleɪ] [pleɪ]
1. intransitive, transitive to do things for pleasure, as children do; to enjoy yourself, rather than work
• You'll have to play inside today.
• There's a time to work and a time to play.
• ~ with sb/sth A group of kids were playing with a ball in the street.
• I haven't got anybody to play with!
• ~ sth Let's play a different game.
2. transitive, no passive, intransitive to pretend to be or do sth for fun
• ~ sth Let's play pirates.
• ~ at doing sth They were playing at being cowboys.
3. transitive ~ a trick/tricks (on sb) to trick sb for fun
4. transitive, intransitive ~ (sth) (with/against sb) to be involved in a game; to compete against sb in a game
• ~ sth to play football/chess/cards, etc.
• ~ sb France are playing Wales tomorrow.
• ~ sb at sth Have you played her at squash yet?
• ~ for sb He plays for Cleveland.
• ~ against sb France are playing against Wales on Saturday.
• + adv./prep. Evans played very well.
5. intransitive to take a particular position in a sports team
• + adv./prep. Who's playing on the wing?
• + noun I've never played right back before.
6. transitive ~ sb (+ adv./prep.) to include sb in a sports team
• I think we should play Matt on the wing.
7. transitive ~ sth to make contact with the ball and hit or kick it in the way mentioned
• She played the ball and ran forward.
• He played a backhand volley.
8. transitive ~ sth (in chess) to move a piece in chess, etc
• She played her bishop.
9. transitive, intransitive ~ (sth) (in card games) to put a card face upwards on the table, showing its value
• to play your ace/a trump
• He played out of turn!
10. transitive, intransitive ~ (sth) (on sth) to perform on a musical instrument; to perform music
• ~ (sth) to play the piano/violin/flute, etc.
• In the distance a band was playing.
• ~ sth (on sth) He played a tune on his harmonica.
• ~ sth to sb Play that new piece to us.
• ~ sb sth Play us that new piece.
11. transitive, intransitive to make a tape, CD, etc. produce sound
• ~ sth (for sb) Play their new CD for me, please.
• ~ (sb sth) Play me their new CD, please.
• My favourite song was playing on the radio.
• For some reason this CD won't play.
12. intransitive, transitive (of a DVD or video) to start working; to make a DVD or video start working
• This DVD won't play on my computer.
• ~ sth Click below to play videos.
• Nothing happens when I try to play a DVD.
• A short video was played to the court showing the inside of the house.
13. transitive ~ sth to act in a play, film/movie, etc; to act the role of sb
• The part of Elizabeth was played by Cate Blanchett.
• He had always wanted to play Othello.
14. intransitive to pretend to be sth that you are not
• + adj. I decided it was safer to play dead.
• + noun She enjoys playing the wronged wife.
15. intransitive ~ (to sb) to be performed
• A production of ‘Carmen’ was playing to packed houses.
16. transitive ~ a part/role (in sth) to have an effect on sth
• The media played an important part in the last election.
17. transitive ~ sth + adv./prep. to deal with a situation in the way mentioned
• He played the situation carefully for maximum advantage.
OF LIGHT/A SMILE
18. intransitive + adv./prep. to move or appear quickly and lightly, often changing direction or shape
• Sunlight played on the surface of the lake.
19. intransitive when a fountain plays, it produces a steady stream of water
• Two huge fountains were playing outside the entrance.
Rem: Most idioms containing play are at the entries for the nouns and adjectives in the idioms, for example play the game is at game.
Old English pleg(i)an ‘to exercise’, plega ‘brisk movement’, related to Middle Dutch pleien ‘leap for joy, dance’.
1. I, T
• There's a time to work and a time to play.
enjoy yourself • • have fun • • celebrate • |informal have a good/great time • • party • • live it up •
Let's play/enjoy ourselves/have fun/celebrate/have a good time/party/live it up.
2. T, I
• He plays football in a local team.
compete • • go in for sth • • enter •
play/compete in a competition, etc.
play/compete against sb
3. T, I
• Who played the part of Juliet?
• I could hear a band playing in the distance.
perform • • act • |especially spoken do •
play/perform/do a piece
play/act a role/part
a band/musician plays/performs/does sth
Play or act? When you are talking about drama act can be used with an object (act a part) as well as without (He just can't act.); play can only be used with an object (play a part) and is more commonly used in this way than act.
fun • recreation • relaxation • play • pleasure • amusement
These are all words for things or activities used to entertain people when they are not working.
entertainment • films, television, music, etc. used to entertain people: ▪ There are three bars, with live entertainment seven nights a week.
fun • (rather informal) behaviour or activities that are not serious but come from a sense of enjoyment: ▪ It wasn't serious— it was all done ▪ in fun ▪. ◊ ▪ We didn't mean to hurt him. It was just ▪ a bit of fun ▪. ◊ ▪ The lottery provides ▪ harmless fun ▪ for millions.
recreation • (rather formal) things people do for enjoyment when they are not working: ▪ His only form of recreation is playing football.
relaxation • (rather formal) things people do to rest and enjoy themselves when they are not working; the ability to relax: ▪ I go hill-walking for relaxation.
recreation or relaxation?
Both these words can be used for a wide range of activities, physical and mental, but relaxation is sometimes used for gentler activities than recreation: ▪ I play the flute in a wind band for recreation. ◊ ▪I listen to music for relaxation.
play • things that people, especially children, do for enjoyment rather than as work: ▪ the happy sounds of children ▪ at play
pleasure • the activity of enjoying yourself, especially in contrast to working: ▪ Are you in Paris ▪ for business or pleasure ▪?
amusement • the fact of being entertained by sth: ▪ What do you do for amusement round here?
to do sth for entertainment/fun/recreation/relaxation/pleasure/amusement
to provide entertainment/fun/recreation/relaxation/amusement
• Have you ever heard her play?
• He plays for Aston Villa.
• He plays for the Chicago Bears.
• I'm learning to play sax.
• I've never played John at tennis.
• Let's play at pirates!
• She has played in every game this season.
• She was playing cards with her mother.
• The band will be playing live in the studio.
• The little girl was playing with her toys.
• The other children wouldn't let him play.
• These guys make the team very difficult to play against.
• United are difficult to play against.
• a piece that is relatively easy to play
• learning to play the violin
• Do you want to play cards with me?
• Have you ever played her at chess?
• I haven't got anybody to play with!
• I've never played right back before.
• Let's play a different game.
• The part of the Queen was played by Helen Mirren.
• There's a time to work and a time to play.
• They play football on Saturday mornings.
• Who's playing on the wing?
• You'll have to play inside today.
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary - 4th Edition
play / pleɪ / 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 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 Aston Villa playing next week?
[ T ] to hit or kick a ball in a game:
He played the ball back to the goalkeeper.
A good snooker player takes time deciding which shot to play.
[ T ] to choose a card, in a card game, from the ones you are holding and put it down on the table:
She played the ace of spades.
© Cambridge University Press 2013
(plays, playing, played)
Frequency: The word is one of the 700 most common words in English.
When children, animals, or perhaps adults play, they spend time doing enjoyable things, such as using toys and taking part in games.
They played in the little garden...
Polly was playing with her teddy bear.
VERB: V, V with n
When you play a sport, game, or match, you take part in it.
While the twins played cards, Francis sat reading...
Alain was playing cards with his friends...
I used to play basketball...
I want to play for my country...
He captained the team but he didn’t actually play.
V-RECIP: pl-n V n, V n with n, V n (non-recip), V for n (non-recip), V (non-recip)
When one person or team plays another or plays against them, they compete against them in a sport or game.
Northern Ireland will play Latvia...
I’ve played against him a few times.
VERB: V n, V against n
When you play the ball or play a shot in a game or sport, you kick or hit the ball.
Think first before playing the ball...
I played the ball back slightly.
VERB: V n, V n adv
If you play a joke or a trick on someone, you deceive them or give them a surprise in a way that you think is funny, but that often causes problems for them or annoys them.
Someone had played a trick on her, stretched a piece of string at the top of those steps...
I thought: ‘This cannot be happening, somebody must be playing a joke’.
VERB: V n on n, V n
If you play with an object or with your hair, you keep moving it or touching it with your fingers, perhaps because you are bored or nervous.
She stared at the floor, idly playing with the strap of her handbag.
VERB: V with n
If an actor plays a role or character in a play or film, he or she performs the part of that character.
...Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in which he played Hyde...
His ambition is to play the part of Dracula.
VERB: V n, V n
You can use play to describe how someone behaves, when they are deliberately behaving in a certain way or like a certain type of person. For example, to play the innocent, means to pretend to be innocent, and to play deaf means to pretend not to hear something.
Hill tried to play the peacemaker...
So you want to play nervous today?
V-LINK: V n, V adj
You can describe how someone deals with a situation by saying that they play it in a certain way. For example, if someone plays it cool, they keep calm and do not show much emotion, and if someone plays it straight, they behave in an honest and direct way.
Investors are playing it cautious, and they’re playing it smart.
VERB: V it adj/adv
If you play a musical instrument or play a tune on a musical instrument, or if a musical instrument plays, music is produced from it.
Nina had been playing the piano...
He played for me...
Place your baby in her seat and play her a lullaby...
The guitars played.
VERB: V n, V for n, V n n, V
If you play a record, a CD, or a tape, you put it into a machine and sound is produced. If a record, CD, or tape is playing, sound is being produced from it.
She played her records too loudly...
There is classical music playing in the background.
VERB: V n, V, also V n n
If a musician or group of musicians plays or plays a concert, they perform music for people to listen or dance to.
A band was playing...
He will play concerts in Amsterdam and Paris.
VERB: V, V n
If you ask what someone is playing at, you are angry because you think they are doing something stupid or wrong. (INFORMAL)
What the hell are you playing at?
PHRASE: V inflects [feelings]
When something comes into play or is brought into play, it begins to be used or to have an effect.
The real existence of a military option will come into play...
PHRASE: V inflects
If something or someone plays a part or plays a role in a situation, they are involved in it and have an effect on it.
The UN would play a major role in monitoring a ceasefire.
...the role played by diet in disease.
PHRASE: V inflects, usu PHR in n
1play /ˈpleɪ/ verb plays; played; play·ing
1 : to do activities for fun or enjoyment
• The children were playing in the yard.
• Can Sara come out and play?
• He played by himself in his room.
- often + with
• She's outside playing with her friends.
• You already have lots of toys to play with.
• a baby playing with his toes
✦If children play teacher/school (etc.), they play by pretending to be adults.
• She likes to play teacher/doctor with her sisters.
- see also play house at 1house
2 a : to participate in (a game or sport)
• Did you play any sports in high school?
• She plays soccer.
• Do you want to play (a game of) cards/poker?
• No one dares to play chess with/against him.
• It's not whether you win or lose (that's important), it's how you play the game.
• The children were playing hide-and-seek.
• I have a chess set. Do you want to play?
• It's your turn to play.
• She hurt her wrist but decided to continue playing.
• He played in every major tournament this year.
• He's always dreamed of playing on a professional hockey team.
- often + for
• We never play for money.
• I'm on a basketball team at school, but I also play for fun with my friends.
✦If you play for a particular team, you are a member of that team.
• Babe Ruth played for the Yankees.
• He used to play for Boston but got traded to New York.
b : to compete against (someone) in a game
• The Yankees are playing the Red Sox tonight at Yankee Stadium.
• No one dares to play him at chess.
• When Tom and I are finished with this game, you can play the winner.
• The Yankees and the Red Sox are playing at Yankee Stadium.
• She has played against some of the best tennis players in the world.
✦If you play (someone) for (something), you play a game in which the winner will be able to take or keep something.
• “Is that the last can of soda?” “Yeah, I'll play you for it.”
c [+ obj] : to have (a particular position on a sports team)
• He dreamed about playing quarterback in the National Football League.
• She played center field in their last game.
• He plays third base.
• What position does he play?
d [+ obj] : to allow (someone) to play during a game especially in a particular position
• Her coach didn't play her in yesterday's game.
• They decided to play him at first base.
e [+ obj] : to place (a playing card) on the table during your turn in a card game
• I played the ace of hearts.
- often used figuratively
• lawyers who play the race card to defend their clients [=who say that their clients were treated unfairly because of their race]
- see also play your cards close to the chest/vest at 1card play your cards right at 1card
f [+ obj] : to move (a piece) during your turn in a chess game
• He played his rook/bishop/queen for the win.
g [+ obj] : to hit, kick, throw, or catch (a ball, puck, etc.)
• You have to play the ball where it lies.
• He played a wedge shot to the green.
• He played a great shot to his opponent's forehand.
• The shortstop played the ball perfectly.
3 [+ obj]
a : to bet money on (something)
• I used to gamble a lot. Mostly, I played the races/horses/slots.
• She only plays the lottery when there's a large jackpot.
b : to invest money in (the stock market) in order to try to earn money
• You can lose a lot of money playing the (stock) market.
4 a : to perform music on (an instrument)
• She's been playing the violin since she was 10 years old.
• Where did you learn to play the piano?
• He can play guitar and drums.
• He played while she sang.
• Would you play for us?
• He plays in a band.
b [no obj] of an instrument : to produce music
• I could hear a guitar playing in the distance.
c [+ obj] : to perform (a song, a piece of music, etc.) on an instrument
• Would you play something for us?
• The band played their new hit song.
• The conductor had us play the piece again from the beginning.
• The band played a waltz.
• She started her career playing country music.
d [+ obj] : to perform music written by (a particular composer)
• The orchestra will be playing Mozart tonight.
e : to perform music in (a particular place)
• It was her dream to play Carnegie Hall.
• She prefers playing small concert halls rather than big stadiums.
• The band has been playing bars and nightclubs.
• We mostly play in bars and nightclubs.
5 : to cause (a song, a piece of music, a movie, etc.) to be heard or seen
• You kids are playing your music too loud.
• The radio station plays mostly hip-hop and R&B.
• Who decides which songs get played on the radio?
• We're waiting for you to play the movie.
• I asked him to play the album/CD/DVD for me.
• Our favorite song was playing on the radio.
• Classical music played softly in the background.
• The movie/DVD is already playing.
6 [no obj] : to be shown or performed usually more than one time
• The film is now playing [=is now being shown] in theaters across the country.
• What's playing at the theater/movies?
• The show has been playing to full/packed houses.
7 a [+ obj] : to act the part of (a particular character) in a film, play, etc.
• He played the lead role in Hamlet.
• Her character is being played by a relatively unknown actress.
• She's not a doctor, but she plays one on TV.
- often used figuratively
• My wife never disciplines the children. She gets to play the good guy while I have to play the bad guy. [=I have to discipline the children]
• I survived a terrible tragedy, but I don't want to play the victim. [=I don't want to act like a victim]
- often used with part or role
• Luck played an important part in their success. [=a lot of their success was because of luck]
• The essay discusses the role that television plays in modern society. [=the effect that television has on modern society]
• He's been playing the part/role of the jealous husband. [=he has been acting like a jealous husband]
• We all have a part/role to play in the future of this company. [=we all will be involved in an important way in the future of this company]
- see also role-play
b [no obj] : to pretend that you have a particular quality or are in a particular condition
• Don't play [=act] all innocent with me!
• She tried to teach her dog to play dead. [=to lie on its back and pretend to be dead]
• If anyone asks you about it, play dumb. [=act like you do not know anything about it]
8 : to act or behave in a particular way
• It's a very competitive business, and not everyone plays fair. = Not everyone plays by the rules.
• If you play smart [=if you make good decisions], you should be able to graduate in four years.
• She didn't want to seem too eager, so she decided to play it cool. [=to act calm]
• If you play it smart, you should be able to graduate in four years.
• I decided to play it safe [=to be careful and avoid risk or danger] and leave early so that I would be sure to arrive on time.
- see also play by ear at 1ear
9 [no obj] : to do or say things in a joking way
• Don't take it so seriously. He was just playing. [=kidding, joking]
- often + around
• I was just playing around. I didn't really mean it.
• Stop playing around and talk to me seriously for a moment.
10 [+ obj] : to do (something) to someone in order to amuse yourself or others
• He's known for playing pranks, so I wouldn't trust him if I were you.
- usually + on
• Let's play a joke on her.
• The students got in trouble for playing a trick on their teacher.
• I can't believe what I'm seeing. My eyes must be playing tricks onme.
11 [+ obj] informal : to use or control (someone or something) in a clever and unfair way
• I'm never going to let anyone play me again.
• She played you like a fool.
- often + for
• She realized too late that she had been played for a fool.
• They had been playing the guy for a sucker all along.
12 [+ obj] : to base a decision or action on (something)
• Sometimes you just have to play your luck [=to take a chance] and hope that everything turns out okay.
• The coach was playing the odds that his pitcher would get through the inning without giving up a run.
• Criminal investigators need to play [=to act on] their hunches.
13 [no obj] US : to be accepted or received in a particular way
• The script looked good on paper but didn't play well on Broadway.
- often + with
• His idea did not play well with the committee. [=the committee did not like his idea]
14 [no obj] : to move in a lively and irregular way
• A knowing smile played on/about her lips.
• We watched the moonlight playing on the water.
play along [phrasal verb] : to agree to do or accept what other people want
• They wanted me to cooperate with them, but I refused to play along. [=go along]
• If I pretend to be sick, will you play along and tell everyone that I had to go to the doctor?
- often + with
• I refused to play along with them.
• Will you play along with my plan?
play around also Brit play about [phrasal verb]
1 : to have sex with someone who is not your husband, wife, or regular partner
• He's not the kind of guy who plays around. [=fools around, messes around]
- often + on
• She's been playing around on her husband.
- often + with
• She's been playing around with one of her coworkers.
2 : to deal with or treat something in a careless way
• When it comes to protecting his family, he doesn't play around. [=fool around, mess around]
- often + with
• You can't play around with diabetes; it's a very serious disease.
3 : to use or do something in a way that is not very serious
• It's time to stop playing around [=fooling around] and get busy.
- often + on
• I spent the evening playing around on the piano/computer/Internet.
- often + with
• I'm not really a painter; I just like to play around with paints.
4 play around with (something) : to move or change (something) or to think about (something) in different ways often in order to find out what would work best
• I see you've been playing around with the living room furniture again.
• The supervisor played around with our work schedules this week.
• We played around with the idea for a while but eventually realized that it just wouldn't work.
- see also 1play 9 (above)
play at [phrasal verb] play at (something)
1 : to do (something) in a way that is not serious
• They were only playing at trying to fix the problem.
2 chiefly Brit : to play by pretending to be (someone or something)
• (Brit) She liked to play at doctors and nurses as a child.
- often used in the phrase play at being (something)
• boys playing at being soldiers
- used to say in an annoyed way that you do not know the reason for someone's behavior
• What is he playing at?
• I have no idea what he was playing at.
play back [phrasal verb] play back (something) or play (something) back : to cause (recorded sounds or pictures) to be heard or seen
• The machine allows you to record and play back sounds.
• We finished recording our first take and played it back to hear how it sounded.
• He played the tape back to/for us.
- see also playback
- see 1ball
play down [phrasal verb] play down (something) or play (something) down : to make (something) seem smaller or less important
• She played down [=downplayed] her role in the research.
• It was a significant mistake though our CEO tried to play it down.
play fast and loose : to behave in a clever and dishonest way - usually + with
• He was accused of playing fast and loose with the truth. [=of being dishonest]
• reporters playing fast and loose with the facts
play for laughs or play (something) for laughs : to act in a funny way that makes people laugh
• She's fantastic in serious roles, but she also knows how to play for laughs.
• Most performers would have taken a serious tone during the scene, but he decided to play it for laughs.
play for time : to try to make something happen later instead of sooner : to try to delay something
• They're just playing for time, hoping that the situation will resolve itself.
- see 1game
play God usually disapproving : to make decisions that have a very powerful and important effect on other people's lives
• lawyers who play God with people's lives
play hard to get : to pretend that you are not interested in having a romantic or sexual relationship with someone in order to make that person more attracted to you
• She's been playing hard to get, but I can tell that she likes me.
play into [phrasal verb] play into (something) : to help support (something, such as an idea)
• This new evidence plays into their theory quite nicely.
• Her methods play into the stereotype that lawyers are dishonest.
play into someone's hands or play into the hands of someone: to do something that you do not realize will hurt you and help someone else
• You're only playing into their hands by making such ridiculous accusations.
play off [phrasal verb]
1 chiefly Brit : to participate in a game that decides a winner from people or teams that had the same results in an earlier game : to play in a play-off
• The two teams played off for third place.
- see also play-off
2 play off (someone or something) US : to react to (someone or something) in a pleasing way : to combine with (someone or something) in a way that makes each part better
• In this scene, the two actors play off each other extremely well.
• The sweetness of the wine plays off the sharp flavor of the cheese.
3 play (someone or something) off against (someone or something) : to cause two people or groups to fight or compete with each other in a way that helps you
• They have been playing him off against his old enemies. [=causing him to fight with his old enemies]
• He played one side off against the other.
play on also play upon [phrasal verb] play on/upon (something) : to make people do what you want by using (their emotions, fears, concerns, etc.) in an unfair way
• The company plays on [=takes advantage of] the concerns of parents in order to sell their products.
• Politicians often win votes by playing on [=exploiting] people's emotions.
play out [phrasal verb]
1 a : to happen or occur in usually a gradual way
• Let's wait and see how things play out. [=take place, develop]
• The consequences of the error will play out for several years to come.
• Their personal tragedy was being played out in public.
b play out (something) or play (something) out : to make (something) happen
• She got to play out [=realize] her fantasy of being on TV.
• We watch professional athletes play out [=act out, live out] our dreams on the field.
• This scene plays itself out [=happens] daily in every large city in this country.
2 play out (something) or play (something) out : to finish (something)
• Her coach let her play out the rest of the season but said she wouldn't be allowed on the team next year.
• We'll stop the game after we play out this hand.
• playing out dangerous experiments
• That style of music had played itself out [=stopped being current or popular] and the record companies wanted something new.
- see also played-out
play the field : to have romantic or sexual relationships with more than one person at a time : to date more than one person
• He wanted to play the field a bit before he got married and settled down.
play the fool
- see 1fool
play to [phrasal verb]
1 play to (someone or something) : to behave or perform in a particular way for (someone or something) in order to get approval or attention
• He didn't mean what he was saying. He was just playing to the crowd.
• He loves publicity and plays to the cameras every chance he gets.
2 play to (something) : to make use of (something)
• a film that plays to stereotypes of housewives
• In his latest album, he once again plays to his strengths as a classical musician.
play to the gallery
- see gallery
play up [phrasal verb]
1 play up (something) or play (something) up
a : to talk about or treat (something) in a way that gives it special importance : to emphasize or stress (something)
• During the interview, try to play down your weaknesses and play up your strengths.
b : to make (something) seem bigger or more important
• It was only a small achievement though our CEO tried to play it up.
2 play up or play (someone) up Brit : to cause problems or pain
• The children have been playing up [=misbehaving, acting up] again.
• The camera started playing up [=acting up] after I dropped it.
• Whenever it rains, my arthritis starts playing up. [=acting up]
• My back has been playing me up again.
play with [phrasal verb] play with (something)
1 : to move or handle (something) with your hands or fingers often without thinking
• She played with her hair while she talked on the phone.
• Stop playing with your food and eat.
2 : to handle, change, or deal with (something) in a careless way
• I played [=fiddled, messed] with the radio for a while but couldn't get it to work.
• It's important to teach your children not to play withguns/fire/matches.
• Don't play with [=play around with] my heart/emotions.
• You have to take this seriously. You're playing with people's lives!
• They're playing with other people's money.
3 : to think about (something) briefly and not very seriously
• Management has been playing with [=toying with] the idea of moving to a different building.
• I played with the idea of moving to Chicago but ended up staying in New York.
play with fire : to do something that is risky or dangerous
• People who use drugs are playing with fire.
play with words/language : to use words that sound similar or that have several different meanings especially in a clever or funny way
• a writer who enjoys playing with words
play with yourself : to touch your own sex organs for sexual pleasure : masturbate