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noun, plural pli·és [plee-eyz; French plee-ey] /pliˈeɪz; French pliˈeɪ/. Ballet.
  1. a movement in which the knees are bent while the back is held straight.

Origin of plié

1890–95; < French, noun use of past participle of plier to bend; see ply2


verb (used with object), plied, ply·ing.
  1. to work with or at diligently; employ busily; use: to ply the needle.
  2. to carry on, practice, or pursue busily or steadily: to ply a trade.
  3. to treat with or apply to (something) repeatedly (often followed by with): to ply a fire with fresh fuel.
  4. to assail persistently: to ply horses with a whip.
  5. to supply with or offer something pressingly to: to ply a person with drink.
  6. to address (someone) persistently or importunately, as with questions, solicitations, etc.; importune.
  7. to pass over or along (a river, stream, etc.) steadily or on a regular basis: boats that ply the Mississippi.
verb (used without object), plied, ply·ing.
  1. to run or travel regularly over a fixed course or between certain places, as a boat, bus, etc.
  2. to perform one's work or office busily or steadily: to ply with the oars; to ply at a trade.

Origin of ply1

1300–50; Middle English plien, aphetic variant of aplien to apply
Related formsply·ing·ly, adverb


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2. follow, exercise.


noun, plural plies.
  1. a thickness or layer.
  2. Automotive. a layer of reinforcing fabric for a tire.
  3. a unit of yarn: single ply.
  4. one of the sheets of veneer that are glued together to make plywood.
  5. Informal. plywood.
  6. bent, bias, or inclination.
verb (used with object), plied, ply·ing.
  1. British Dialect. to bend, fold, or mold.
verb (used without object), plied, ply·ing.
  1. Obsolete. to bend, incline, or yield.

Origin of ply2

1300–50; Middle English plien (v.) < Middle French plier to fold, bend, variant of ployer, Old French pleier < Latin plicāre to fold; see fold1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for plies

Historical Examples

  • He is very feverish; he awakes at every instant, almost, and then plies me with questions.

    The Downfall

    Emile Zola

  • And it's a fine trade that she plies, selling other people's milk.


    Emile Zola

  • He plies the slow, unhonoured, and unpaid task of observation.

  • Night after night she plies her task, and she comes first to him who longs for her most.

  • The folds, the creases, and the plies instil life into the work.

British Dictionary definitions for plies


  1. a classic ballet practice posture with back erect and knees bent

Word Origin

French: bent, from plier to bend


verb plies, plying or plied (mainly tr)
  1. to carry on, pursue, or work at (a job, trade, etc)
  2. to manipulate or wield (a tool)
  3. to sell (goods, wares, etc), esp at a regular place
  4. (usually foll by with) to provide (with) or subject (to) repeatedly or persistentlyhe plied us with drink the whole evening; to ply a horse with a whip; he plied the speaker with questions
  5. (intr) to perform or work steadily or diligentlyto ply with a spade
  6. (also intr) (esp of a ship) to travel regularly along (a route) or in (an area)to ply between Dover and Calais; to ply the trade routes

Word Origin

C14 plye, short for aplye to apply


noun plural plies
    1. a layer, fold, or thickness, as of cloth, wood, yarn, etc
    2. (in combination)four-ply
  1. a thin sheet of wood glued to other similar sheets to form plywood
  2. one of the strands twisted together to make rope, yarn, etc
verb (tr)
  1. to twist together (two or more single strands) to make yarn

Word Origin

C15: from Old French pli fold, from plier to fold, from Latin plicāre
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for plies



in ballet, 1892, from French plié, from plier literally "to bend," from Old French ploier (see ply (n.)).



"work with, use," late 14c., shortened form of applien "join to, apply" (see apply). The core of this is Latin plicare "to lay, fold, twist," from PIE root *plek- "to plait, twist" (cf. Greek plekein "to plait, twine," plektos "twisted;" Latin plectere (past participle plexus) "to plait, braid, intertwine;" Old Church Slavonic plesti "to braid, plait, twist;" Gothic flahta "braid;" Old English fleax "cloth made with flax, linen").

Sense of "travel regularly" is first 1803, perhaps from earlier sense "steer a course" (1550s). Related: Plied; plies; plying.



"a layer, a fold" 1530s, from Middle French pli "a fold" (13c.), alteration of Old French ploi "fold, pleat, layer" (12c.), verbal noun from ployer (later pleier) "to bend, to fold," from Latin plicare "to fold, lay" see ply (v.1)). This is the ply in plywood.



"to bend," late 14c., plien, from Old French plier, earlier pleier "to fold, bend," from Latin plicare "to lay, fold, twist" (see ply (v.1)). Related: Plied; plies; plying.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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