WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2019
play /pleɪ/USA pronunciation   n. 
  1. a dramatic composition;
    drama:[countable]the plays of Shakespeare.
  2. a performance of such a drama, as on the stage:[countable]We saw three plays during our vacation.
  3. activity done for recreation or amusement, as by children:[uncountable]I need some time for play away from work.
  4. the action or conduct of a game:[uncountable]Rain has delayed play here at Wimbledon.
  5. an act or instance of playing:[countable]That one foolish play may have cost us the match.
  6. manner or style of playing, or of behavior generally:[uncountable]a believer in fair play.
  7. brisk, light, or changing movement or action:[countable;  usually singular]the play of a water fountain.
  8. freedom for or space in which something, as a part of a mechanism, can move;
    give:[uncountable]There's some play, perhaps two inches, in this fan belt.
  9. freedom or scope for activity:[uncountable]allowing full play of the mind.
  10. attention;
    coverage, as of something broadcast:[uncountable]All those blunders got a lot of play in the media.

  1. to portray;
    act the part of: [+ object]to play Lady Macbeth.[no object]played in several off-Broadway shows.
  2. to (cause to) be performed or shown, as a drama, etc.: [+ object]They're playing that dumb old movie at the cinema again.[no object]What's playing at the cinema tonight?
  3. [+ object] to act the part or character of in real life:to play the fool.See play at below.
  4. to give performances in (a place):[+ object]She'll play all the big cities.
  5. to be part of or perform in (a game, etc.);
    to occupy oneself in relaxation or recreation: [+ object]They played chess.[no object]playing with blocks.
  6. to perform in a game against (someone): [+ object]The girls' basketball team plays their archrivals tonight.[no object]They play against their archrivals for the championship.
  7. to perform in (a certain position or role) in a game or competition:[+ object]to play center field.
  8. to use or make use of in a game:[+ object]I played my highest card.
  9. to exploit as if in playing a game, esp. for one's own advantage:[+ object]played him for a fool.
  10. to perform or be able to perform on (a musical instrument): [+ object]She plays the trumpet.[no object]It was hard for her to play.
  11. to perform (music) on an instrument:[+ object]They played "The Star-Spangled Banner.''
  12. to (cause to) produce sound or pictures: [+ object]They played the VCR.[no object]His radio was playing all night long.
  13. to carry out, esp. as a sly or dishonest action:[+ object]to play tricks.
  14. to do something not to be taken seriously;
    joke around:[no object]We were just playing; nobody meant to insult you.
  15. to put into operation:[+ object]to play a hunch.
  16. to (cause to) move quickly:[no object]A smile played on her lips.
  17. Business to gamble, use money in, or trade in:[+ object]to play the stock market.
  18. to avail oneself of (opportunities, as cards) in a game or in any activity:Play your cards right.
  19. to amuse oneself;
    to toy with:[+ with + object]got the feeling she was just playing with him.
  20. to act in a certain way:[no object]to play fair.
  21. to be received;
    go over:[no object]How will the proposal play with the public?
  22. play along, [no object]
    • to agree to do something:If the mob threatens to kill his family, he may have to play along and refuse to testify.
    • to pretend to agree to do something:just playing along in order to get him to admit to his crime.
  23. play around, [no object]
    • to behave in a playful manner, or in a manner that wastes time:I don't have time to play around.
    • to have sexual relations very often, esp. outside of marriage:He played around with a number of girls.
  24. play at: 
    • [+ at + verb-ing] to pretend to do or be:The kids were playing at being soldiers.
    • [+ at + object] to do without being serious:He was just playing at politics.
  25. play back, to play (a recording, esp. one newly made): [+ back + object]The police played back the recording of him admitting his crimes.[+ object + back]They played it back in the courtroom.
  26. play down, to treat (something) as being of little importance;
    belittle: [+ down + object]The senator kept playing down the state of the economy.[+ object + down]He tried to play it down.
  27. play off against, to set (one person or thing) against another, for one's own gain or advantage: [+ off + object + against + object]In a three-man race the incumbent can play off one opponent against the other.[+ object + off against + object]to play one off against the other.
  28. play on or  upon, [+ on/upon + object] to use the weaknesses of (another) for one's own gain;
    take advantage of:to play on someone's generosity.
  29. play out: 
    • to bring to an end;
      finish: [+ object + out]Let's play this whole scheme out and see where it takes us.[+ out + object]Let's play out the whole scheme.
    • [+ object + out] to use up;
      exhaust:completely played out from the long march in the cold.
  30. play up, to treat (something) as important;
    publicize: [+ up + object]In your job interview, try to play up your good points.[+ object + up]Play your good points up during the interview.
  31. play up to, [+ up to + object] to attempt to impress in order to gain the favor of:playing up to the boss.
  1. Idiomsbring into play, to cause to be considered or used: [+ object]The district attorney brought into play some new evidence.[bring + object + into + play]She brought some new evidence into play.
  2. Idiomsmake a play for, [+ object] to use maneuvers to attract, esp. sexually:making a play for his pal's girlfriend.
  3. play a part, to have an effect on;
    contribute to:Politics played an important part in the decision to fire him.
  4. Idiomsplay for time, to delay or forestall an event or decision:"Play for time while I see what's keeping him,'' he whispered to me.
  5. Idiomsplay into (someone's) hands, to act so as to give an advantage to (an opponent):If you lose your temper, you'll be playing right into his hands.
  6. Idiomsplay with a full deck, [ used with a negative word or phrase, or in questions ][Slang.]to be sane or act sanely or rationally:She's not playing with a full deck.

WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2019
play  (plā),USA pronunciation n. 
  1. a dramatic composition or piece;
  2. a dramatic performance, as on the stage.
  3. exercise or activity for amusement or recreation.
  4. fun or jest, as opposed to seriousness:I said it merely in play.
  5. a pun.
  6. the playing, action, or conduct of a game:The pitcher was replaced in the fourth inning of play.
  7. the manner or style of playing or of doing something:We admired his fine play throughout the game.
  8. an act or instance of playing or of doing something:a stupid play that cost us the match.
  9. one's turn to play:Whose play is it?
  10. a playing for stakes;
  11. 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.
  12. Stock Exchangean enterprise or venture;
    deal:an oil and drilling play.
  13. action, conduct, or dealing of a specified kind:fair play; foul play.
  14. action, activity, or operation:the play of fancy.
  15. brisk, light, or changing movement or action:a fountain with a leaping play of water.
  16. elusive change or movement, as of light or colors:the play of a searchlight against the night sky.
  17. a space in which something, as a part of a mechanism, can move.
  18. freedom of movement within a space, as of a part of a mechanism.
  19. freedom for action, or scope for activity:full play of the mind.
  20. attention in the press or other media;
    dissemination as news:The birth of the panda got a big play in the papers.
  21. an act or instance of being broadcast:The governor's speech got two plays on our local station.
  22. Idiomsbring into play, to put into motion;
    cause to be introduced:New evidence has been brought into play in this trial.
  23. Idiomsin or  out of play, in or not in the state of being played during a game:The umpire says the ball was not in play.
  24. make a play for, [Informal.]
    • Idiomsto try to attract, esp. sexually:He made a play for his friend's girlfriend.
    • Idiomsto attempt to gain by impressing favorably:This ad will make a play for new consumer markets.

  1. to act the part of (a person or character) in a dramatic performance;
    portray:to play Lady Macbeth.
  2. to perform (a drama, pantomime, etc.) on or as if on the stage.
  3. to act or sustain (a part) in a dramatic performance or in real life:to play the role of benefactor.
  4. to act the part or character of in real life:to play the fool; to play God.
  5. to give performances in, as a theatrical company does:to play the larger cities.
  6. to engage in (a game, pastime, etc.).
  7. to contend against in a game.
  8. to function or perform as (a specified player) in a game or competition:He usually plays left end.
  9. to employ (a piece of equipment, a player, etc.) in a game:I played my highest card.
  10. to use as if in playing a game, as for one's own advantage:He played his brothers against each other.
  11. to stake or wager, as in a game.
  12. to lay a wager or wagers on (something).
  13. to represent or imitate, as for recreation or in jest:to play cowboys and Indians.
  14. to perform on (a musical instrument).
  15. to perform (music) on an instrument.
  16. to cause (a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to produce sound or pictures:to play a tape; to play the radio.
  17. to do or perform:You shouldn't play tricks. Compromise plays an important part in marriage.
  18. to carry or put into operation;
    act upon:to play a hunch.
  19. to cause to move or change lightly or quickly:to play colored lights on a fountain.
  20. to operate or cause to operate, esp. continuously or with repeated action:to play a hose on a fire.
  21. Sportto allow (a hooked fish) to exhaust itself by pulling on the line.
  22. to display or feature (a news story, photograph, etc.), esp. prominently:Play the flood photos on page one.
  23. Businessto exploit or trade in (an investment, business opportunity, stock, etc.).

  1. to exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation.
  2. to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously.
  3. to amuse oneself;
    trifle (often fol. by with).
  4. to take part or engage in a game.
  5. to take part in a game for stakes;
  6. to conduct oneself or act in a specified way:to play fair.
  7. to act on or as if on the stage;
  8. to perform on a musical instrument.
  9. (of an instrument or music) to sound in performance:The strings are playing well this evening.
  10. (of a phonograph, radio, recording, etc.) to give forth sound:The radio played all night.
  11. to be performed or shown:What's playing at the movie theater around the corner?
  12. to be capable of or suitable for performance, as a television or dramatic script:We hope this scene will play well.
  13. [Informal.]to be accepted or effective;
    fare:How will the senator's proposal play with the public?
  14. to move freely within a space, as a part of a mechanism.
  15. to move about lightly or quickly:The water of the fountain played in the air.
  16. 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.
  17. to operate continuously or with repeated action.
  18. [Informal.]to comply or cooperate:They wanted her to tell them what she knew about the plans, but she refused to play.
  19. 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.
  20. play along: 
    • to cooperate or concur;
      go along.
    • to pretend to cooperate or concur.
  21. play around, [Informal.]
    • to behave in a playful or frivolous manner;
      fool around.
    • to be sexually promiscuous.
    • to be sexually unfaithful.
  22. 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.
  23. Idiomsplay back, to play (a recording, esp. one newly made):Play it back and let's hear how I sound.
  24. Idiomsplay ball. See  ball 1 (def. 17).
  25. Idiomsplay both ends against the middle, to maneuver opposing groups in order to benefit oneself.
  26. Idiomsplay 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.
  27. play down, to treat as of little importance;
    belittle:He has consistently played down his own part in the successful enterprise.
  28. played out: 
    • Idiomsexhausted;
    • Idiomsout of fashion;
      hackneyed:New styles in clothing are soon played out in New York.
    • Idiomsused up;
      finished:The original tires were played out and had to be replaced.
  29. Idiomsplay fast and loose, to act in an irresponsible or inconsiderate manner, esp. to employ deception to gain one's ends:to play fast and loose with someone's affections.
  30. Idiomsplay 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.
  31. play hardball. See  hardball (def. 2).
  32. Idiomsplay into the hands of, to act in such a way as to give an advantage to (someone, esp. 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. 
  33. Idiomsplay it by ear, to improvise, esp. 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.
  34. Sportplay 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.
  35. Idiomsplay one's cards. See  card 1 (def. 17).
  36. play on or  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.
  37. play out: 
    • to bring to an end;
    • to use up;
      exhaust:to play out one's supplies.
    • to reel or pay out, as a rope, line, etc.
  38. play politics. See  politics (def. 8).
  39. play possum. See  possum (def. 2).
  40. Idiomsplay second fiddle. See  second fiddle (def. 1).
  41. Idiomsplay the field. See  field (def. 26).
  42. play the game. See  game 1 (def. 18).
  43. play up, to emphasize the importance of;
    highlight or publicize:The schools are playing up their science programs.
  44. 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.
  45. Idiomsplay with a full deck. See  deck (def. 19).
  46. Idiomsplay with fire. See  fire (def. 27).
  47. play with oneself, [Informal.]to masturbate.
playing•ly, adv. 
playless, adj. 
playlike′, adj. 
  • bef. 900; (noun, nominal) Middle English pleye, Old English plega; (verb, verbal) Middle English pleyen, Old English pleg(i)an (cognate with Middle Dutch pleien to leap for joy, dance, rejoice, be glad)
    • 2.See corresponding entry in Unabridged show.
    • 3.See corresponding entry in Unabridged diversion, pastime.
      Play, game, sport refer to forms of diverting activity.
      Play is the general word for any such form of activity, often undirected, spontaneous, or random:Childhood should be a time for play.Game refers to a recreational contest, mental or physical, usually governed by set rules:a game of chess.Besides referring to an individual contest,
      game may refer to a pastime as a whole:Golf is a good game.If, however, the pastime is one (usually an outdoor one) depending chiefly on physical strength, though not necessarily a contest, the word
      sport is applied:Football is a vigorous sport.
    • 18, 19.See corresponding entry in Unabridged liberty.
    • 26.See corresponding entry in Unabridged enact.
    • 28.See corresponding entry in Unabridged personate, impersonate.
    • 33.See corresponding entry in Unabridged use.
    • 35.See corresponding entry in Unabridged bet.
    • 36.See corresponding entry in Unabridged back.
    • 48.See corresponding entry in Unabridged sport, frolic, romp, revel.
    • 50.See corresponding entry in Unabridged dally.
    • 3, 48.See corresponding entry in Unabridged work.

WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2019
ˈplay-ˌoff,  n. [countable][Sports.]
  1. Sportan extra game, round, etc., played to settle a tie.
  2. Sporta series of games or matches played to decide a championship.

WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2019
play-off  (plāôf′, -of′),USA pronunciation n. 
  1. Sport(in competitive sports) the playing of an extra game, rounds, innings, etc., in order to settle a tie.
  2. Sporta series of games or matches, as between the leading teams of two leagues, in order to decide a championship:In America the most exciting play-off is the World Series.
  • noun, nominal use of verb, verbal phrase play off 1890–95

Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

play off vb (adverb)
  1. (transitive) usually followed by against: to deal with or manipulate as if in playing a game: to play one person off against another
  2. (intransitive) to take part in a play-off
n play-off
  1. an extra contest to decide the winner when two or more competitors are tied
  2. chiefly US Canadian a contest or series of games to determine a championship, as between the winners of two competitions

'playoff' also found in these entries:

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