when children play, they do things that they enjoy, often with other people or with toys:
children[intransitive and transitive]DGO
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.
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.
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.
to perform a piece of music on a musical instrument:
music[intransitive and transitive]
He's learning to play the piano.
She played a Bach prelude.
Haden has played with many jazz greats.
A small orchestra was playing.
if a radio, CD etc plays, or if you play it, it produces sound, especially music:
radio/cd etc[intransitive and transitive]
The bedside radio played softly.
play a record/CD/tape etc
DJs playing the latest house and techno tracks
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.
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.
if actors play a theatre, they perform there in a play
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.
to throw, kick, hit, or catch a ball as a game or activity:
Jim and Karl were playing ball in the backyard.
to do what someone wants you to do:
So far, the company has refused to play ball, preferring to remain independent.
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)
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.
to behave in a particular way in a situation, in order to achieve the result or effect that you want:
behave[transitive always + adverb/preposition]
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.
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.
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.
if someone can play a musical instrument by ear, they can play a tune without looking at written music
to do something to someone as a joke or trick
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
to use a particular subject in politics in order to gain an advantage:
a leader who is skillfully playing the nationalist card to keep power
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.
to keep secret what you are doing in a situation
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.
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.
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.
to risk money on the stock market as a way of trying to earn more money
to use the rules of a system in a clever way, to gain advantage for yourself:
Accountants know how to play the tax system.
to be in a lower position or rank than someone else
to pretend that you are not sexually interested in someone so that they will become more interested in you
if a smile plays about someone's lips, they smile slightly
smile[intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written
25 American English play truant British EnglishSE
to stay away from school without permission
to do something that could have a very dangerous or harmful result:
Dating the boss's daughter is playing with fire.
if light plays on something, it shines on it and moves on it:
light[intransitive always + adverb/preposition] written
the sunlight playing on the water
if a fountain plays, water comes from it
to have sexual relationships with a lot of different people
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.
to point a hose or light towards something so that water or light goes onto it
play aroundphrasal verb
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.
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.
to behave in a silly way or waste time, when you should be doing something more serious [= fool around]:
When the teacher wasn't looking, we used to play about a lot.
play around with somethingphrasal verb
Will you stop playing around with the remote control!
play alongphrasal verb
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 British English
to tell someone something that is not true because you need their help in some way
play at somethingphrasal verb
1 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?
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 fourteen-year-old playing at being a grown woman
play something ↔ backphrasal 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 ↔ downphrasal verb
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 offphrasal 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.
play somebody off against somebodyphrasal verb
The house seller may try to play one buyer off against another, to raise the price.
play on/upon somethingphrasal verb
The ad plays on our emotions, showing a doctor holding a newborn baby.
play something ↔ outphrasal verb
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.
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 upphrasal verb
to emphasize something, sometimes making it seem more important than it really is:
Play up your strongest arguments in the opening paragraph.
2 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.
to hurt you or cause problems for you:
play (somebody) upBritish English informal
My knee's been playing me up this week.
The car's playing up again.
play up to somebodyphrasal verb
Connie always plays up to her parents when she wants money.
play with somebody/somethingphrasal verb
to keep touching something or moving it:
Stop playing with the light switch!
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.
to consider an idea or possibility, but not always very seriously [= toy with]:
After university, I played with the idea of teaching English in China.
money, time etc that is available to be used:
The budget is very tight, so there isn't much money to play with.
to touch your own sex organs for pleasure [= masturbate]
to use words in a clever or amusing way