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a dramatic composition or piece; drama.
a dramatic performance, as on the stage.
exercise or activity for amusement or recreation.
fun or jest, as opposed to seriousness:
I said it merely in play.
a pun.
the playing, action, or conduct of a game:
The pitcher was replaced in the fourth inning of play.
the manner or style of playing or of doing something:
We admired his fine play throughout the game.
an act or instance of playing or of doing something:
a stupid play that cost us the match.
one’s turn to play:
Whose play is it?
a playing for stakes; gambling.
an attempt to accomplish something, often in a manner showing craft or calculation; maneuver:
They tried to buy up the stock in a takeover play.
an enterprise or venture; deal:
an oil and drilling play.
action, conduct, or dealing of a specified kind:
fair play; foul play.
action, activity, or operation:
the play of fancy.
brisk, light, or changing movement or action:
a fountain with a leaping play of water.
elusive change or movement, as of light or colors:
the play of a searchlight against the night sky.
a space in which something, as a part of a mechanism, can move.
freedom of movement within a space, as of a part of a mechanism.
freedom for action, or scope for activity:
full play of the mind.
attention in the press or other media; coverage; dissemination as news:
The birth of the panda got a big play in the papers.
an act or instance of being broadcast:
The governor’s speech got two plays on our local station.
to act the part of (a person or character) in a dramatic performance; portray:
to play Lady Macbeth.
to perform (a drama, pantomime, etc.) on or as if on the stage.
to act or sustain (a part) in a dramatic performance or in real life:
to play the role of benefactor.
to act the part or character of in real life:
to play the fool; to play God.
to give performances in, as a theatrical company does:
to play the larger cities.
to engage in (a game, pastime, etc.).
to contend against in a game.
to function or perform as (a specified player) in a game or competition:
He usually plays left end.
to employ (a piece of equipment, a player, etc.) in a game:
I played my highest card.
to use as if in playing a game, as for one’s own advantage:
He played his brothers against each other.
to stake or wager, as in a game.
to lay a wager or wagers on (something).
to represent or imitate, as for recreation or in jest:
to play cowboys and Indians.
to perform on (a musical instrument).
to perform (music) on an instrument.
to cause (a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to produce sound or pictures:
to play a tape; to play the radio.
to do or perform:
You shouldn’t play tricks. Compromise plays an important part in marriage.
to carry or put into operation; act upon:
to play a hunch.
to cause to move or change lightly or quickly:
to play colored lights on a fountain.
to operate or cause to operate, especially continuously or with repeated action:
to play a hose on a fire.
to allow (a hooked fish) to exhaust itself by pulling on the line.
to display or feature (a news story, photograph, etc.), especially prominently:
Play the flood photos on page one.
to exploit or trade in (an investment, business opportunity, stock, etc.).
to exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously.
to amuse oneself; toy; trifle (often followed by with).
to take part or engage in a game.
to take part in a game for stakes; gamble.
to conduct oneself or act in a specified way:
to play fair.
to act on or as if on the stage; perform.
to perform on a musical instrument.
(of an instrument or music) to sound in performance:
The strings are playing well this evening.
(of a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to give forth sound:
The radio played all night.
to be performed or shown:
What’s playing at the movie theater around the corner?
to be capable of or suitable for performance, as a television or dramatic script:
We hope this scene will play well.
Informal. to be accepted or effective; fare:
How will the senator’s proposal play with the public?
to move freely within a space, as a part of a mechanism.
to move about lightly or quickly:
The water of the fountain played in the air.
to present the effect of such motion, as light or the changing colors of an iridescent substance:
The lights played strangely over the faces of the actors.
to operate continuously or with repeated action.
Informal. to comply or cooperate:
They wanted her to tell them what she knew about the plans, but she refused to play.
play along,

to cooperate or concur; go along.
to pretend to cooperate or concur.

play around, Informal.

to behave in a playful or frivolous manner; fool around.
to be sexually promiscuous.
to be sexually unfaithful.

play at,

to pretend interest in:
It’s obvious that you’re just playing at fishing for my sake.
to do something without seriousness:
He is merely playing at being a student.

play back, to play (a recording, especially one newly made):
Play it back and let’s hear how I sound.
play down, to treat as of little importance; belittle:
He has consistently played down his own part in the successful enterprise.
play off,

Sports. to play an extra game or round in order to settle a tie.
Sports. to engage in an elimination game or games after the regular season is over in order to determine the champion.
to set (one person or thing) against another, usually for one’s own gain or advantage:
The children could usually get what they wanted by playing one parent off against the other.

play on/upon, to exploit, as the feelings or weaknesses of another; take selfish advantage of:
She would never think of playing on the good nature of others.
play out,

to bring to an end; finish.
to use up; exhaust:
to play out one’s supplies.
to reel or pay out, as a rope, line, etc.

play up, to emphasize the importance of; highlight or publicize:
The schools are playing up their science programs.
bring into play, to put into motion; cause to be introduced:
New evidence has been brought into play in this trial.
come to play, Informal. to be disposed to play or participate in a manner reflecting a determination to win or succeed:
We’re a small new business, but we came to play.
in / out of play, in or not in the state of being played during a game:
The umpire says the ball was not in play.
make a play for, Informal.

to try to attract, especially sexually:
He made a play for his friend’s girlfriend.
to attempt to gain by impressing favorably:
This ad will make a play for new consumer markets.

play ball. ball1 (def 23).
play both ends against the middle, to maneuver opposing groups in order to benefit oneself.
play by ear, to play (music or a musical instrument) without printed music, as by memory of what one has heard or by unschooled musical instinct.
played out,

exhausted; weary.
out of fashion; hackneyed:
New styles in clothing are soon played out in New York.
used up; finished:
The original tires were played out and had to be replaced.

play fast and loose, to act in an irresponsible or inconsiderate manner, especially to employ deception to gain one’s ends:
to play fast and loose with someone’s affections.
play for time, to prolong something in order to gain an advantage; forestall an event or decision:
Their maneuvering at the conference was obviously calculated to play for time.
play hardball. hardball (def 4).
play into the hands of, to act in such a way as to give an advantage to (someone, especially an opponent):
If you lose your temper when he insults you, you will be playing right into his hands.
Also, play into (someone’s) hands.
play it by ear, to improvise, especially in a challenging situation when confronted by unknown factors:
If you can’t come up with a plan, we’ll just have to play it by ear.
play it safe, to act cautiously; avoid risk or danger:
She usually plays it safe on the red carpet, wearing simple, classic designs.
Also, play safe.
play one’s cards. card1 (def 21).
play politics. politics (def 8).
play possum. possum (def 3).
play second fiddle. second fiddle (def 1).
play the field. field (def 39).
play the game. game1 (def 25).
play up to, Informal. to attempt to impress in order to gain someone’s favor:
Students who too obviously play up to their teachers are usually disliked by their classmates.
play with a full deck. deck (def 23).
play with fire. fire (def 54).
play with oneself, Informal. to masturbate.
Contemporary Examples

The Belarus Free Theatre’s Badass Dissident Artists Get the HBO Treatment Katie Baker July 6, 2014
Yes, Pundits, Hillary Has the 2016 Nomination in the Bag Robert Shrum February 17, 2014
The Democrats’ Silver Lining Reihan Salam January 5, 2010
The Insurgent’s Final Hours Samuel P. Jacobs January 17, 2010
The China-U.S. Basketball Brawl Isaac Stone Fish August 18, 2011

Historical Examples

At the Little Brown House Ruth Alberta Brown
Philothea Lydia Maria Child
The Continental Monthly, Vol 6, No 5, November 1864 Various
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
The Princess of the School Angela Brazil

to occupy oneself in (a sport or diversion); amuse oneself in (a game)
(transitive) to contend against (an opponent) in a sport or game: Ed played Tony at chess and lost
to fulfil or cause to fulfil (a particular role) in a team game: he plays defence, he plays in the defence
(transitive) to address oneself to (a ball) in a game: play the ball not the man
(intransitive; often foll by about or around) to behave carelessly, esp in a way that is unconsciously cruel or hurtful; trifle or dally (with): to play about with a young girl’s affections
when intr, often foll by at. to perform or act the part (of) in or as in a dramatic production; assume or simulate the role (of): to play the villain, just what are you playing at?
to act out or perform (a dramatic production)
to give a performance in (a place) or (of a performance) to be given in a place
(intransitive) to be received: How will these policies play in Middle England?
to have the ability to perform on (a musical instrument): David plays the harp
to perform (on a musical instrument) as specified: he plays out of tune

to reproduce (a tune, melody, piece of music, note, etc) on an instrument
to perform works by (a specific composer): to play Brahms

to discharge or cause to discharge: he played the water from the hose onto the garden
to operate, esp to cause (a record player, radio, etc) to emit sound or (of a record player, radio, etc) to emit (sound): he played a record, the radio was playing loudly
to move or cause to move freely, quickly, or irregularly: lights played on the scenery
(transitive) (stock exchange) to speculate or operate aggressively for gain in (a market)
(transitive) (angling) to attempt to tire (a hooked fish) by alternately letting out and reeling in line and by using the rod’s flexibility
to put (a card, counter, piece, etc) into play
to gamble (money) on a game
(informal) play ball, to cooperate
play fair, play fair with someone, to prove oneself fair in one’s dealings
play false, play fair with someone, to prove oneself unfair in one’s dealings
play by ear, See ear1 (sense 19)
play for time, to delay the outcome of some activity so as to gain time to one’s own advantage
play into the hands of, to act directly to the advantage of (an opponent)
play the fool, See fool1 (sense 7)
play the game, See game1 (sense 22)
a dramatic composition written for performance by actors on a stage, on television, etc; drama

the performance of a dramatic composition
(in combination): playreader

games, exercise, or other activity undertaken for pleasure, diversion, etc, esp by children
(in combination): playroom
(as modifier): play dough

manner of action, conduct, or playing: fair play
the playing or conduct of a game or the period during which a game is in progress: rain stopped play
(US & Canadian) a move or manoeuvre in a game: a brilliant play
the situation of a ball that is within the defined area and being played according to the rules (in the phrases in play, out of play)
a turn to play: it’s my play
the act of playing for stakes; gambling
action, activity, or operation: the play of the imagination
freedom of or scope or space for movement: too much play in the rope
light, free, or rapidly shifting motion: the play of light on the water
fun, jest, or joking: I only did it in play
call into play, to bring into operation
(informal) make a play for

to make an obvious attempt to gain
to attempt to attract or seduce


To acquiesce; cooperate; play ball: They’d come back and get her, if I didn’t play with them (1937+)
To go very well; succeed: The O’Connor appointment’s playing. You’re on a roll, Mr President (1980s+ Show business)

play a losing game
play a waiting game
play along
play around
play at
play back
play ball
play both ends against the middle
play by ear
play cat and mouse
play down
play fair
play false
play fast and loose
play footsie
play for
play for keeps
play for laughs
play for time
play games
play hard to get
play hardball
play havoc
play hide and seek
play hooky
play in Peoria
play into the hands of
play it close to one’s chest
play it cool
play it safe
play musical chairs
play off
play on
play on words
play one’s cards close to one’s chest
play one’s cards right
play one’s trump card
play out
play politics
play possum
play safe
play second fiddle
play the devil with
play the field
play the fool
play the game
play the heavy
play the market
play to the gallery
play up
play up to
play upon
play with fire


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