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.
    1. to try to attract, especially sexually: He made a play for his friend's girlfriend.
    2. to attempt to gain by impressing favorably: This ad will make a play for new consumer markets.
    play ball. ball1(def 25).
    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,
    1. exhausted; weary.
    2. out of fashion; hackneyed: New styles in clothing are soon played out in New York.
    3. 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 22).
    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 27).
    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.

Origin of play

before 900; (noun) Middle English pleye, Old English plega; (v.) Middle English pleyen, Old English pleg(i)an (cognate with Middle Dutch pleien to leap for joy, dance, rejoice, be glad)
Related formsplay·ing·ly, adverbplay·less, adjectiveplay·like, adjectivecoun·ter·play, nounnon·play·ing, adjectiveself-play·ing, adjectiveun·played, adjectiveun·play·ing, adjectivewell-played, adjective

Synonyms for play

2. show. 3. 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. liberty. 23. enact. 25. personate, impersonate. 30. use. 32. bet. 33. back. 45. sport, frolic, romp, revel. 47. dally.

Antonyms for play

3, 45. work. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for nonplaying



belonging to a team, group, etc, but not participating in their pursuitappointed nonplaying captain



to occupy oneself in (a sport or diversion); amuse oneself in (a game)
(tr) to contend against (an opponent) in a sport or gameEd played Tony at chess and lost
to fulfil or cause to fulfil (a particular role) in a team gamehe plays defence; he plays in the defence
(tr) to address oneself to (a ball) in a gameplay the ball not the man
(intr; 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
(intr) to be receivedHow 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 specifiedhe plays out of tune
  1. to reproduce (a tune, melody, piece of music, note, etc) on an instrument
  2. to perform works by (a specific composer)to play Brahms
to discharge or cause to dischargehe 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 irregularlylights played on the scenery
(tr) stock exchange to speculate or operate aggressively for gain in (a market)
(tr) 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
play ball informal to cooperate
play fair or play fair with someone to prove oneself fair in one's dealings
play false or play fair with someone to prove oneself unfair in one's dealings
play by ear See ear 1 (def. 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 fool 1 (def. 7)
play the game See game 1 (def. 22)


a dramatic composition written for performance by actors on a stage, on television, etc; drama
  1. the performance of a dramatic composition
  2. (in combination)playreader
  1. games, exercise, or other activity undertaken for pleasure, diversion, etc, esp by children
  2. (in combination)playroom
  3. (as modifier)play dough
manner of action, conduct, or playingfair play
the playing or conduct of a game or the period during which a game is in progressrain stopped play
US and Canadian a move or manoeuvre in a gamea 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 playit's my play
the act of playing for stakes; gambling
action, activity, or operationthe play of the imagination
freedom of or scope or space for movementtoo much play in the rope
light, free, or rapidly shifting motionthe play of light on the water
fun, jest, or jokingI only did it in play
call into play to bring into operation
make a play for informal
  1. to make an obvious attempt to gain
  2. to attempt to attract or seduce
Derived Formsplayability, nounplayable, adjective

Word Origin for play

Old English plega (n), plegan (vb); related to Middle Dutch pleyen
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 nonplaying



Old English plegan, plegian "move rapidly, occupy or busy oneself, exercise; frolic; make sport of, mock; perform music," from West Germanic *plegan "occupy oneself about" (cf. Old Saxon plegan "vouch for, take charge of," Old Frisian plega "tend to," Middle Dutch pleyen "to rejoice, be glad," German pflegen "take care of, cultivate"), from PIE root *dlegh- "to engage oneself," forming words in Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and possibly Latin.

Meaning "to take part in a game" is from c.1200. Opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Related: Played; playing. To play up "emphasize" is from 1909; to play down "minimize" is from 1930; to play along "cooperate" is from 1929. To play with oneself "masturbate" is from 1896; play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children's games with tokens. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 ("Gil Blas"). To play into the hands (of someone) is from 1705. To play the _______ card is attested from 1886; to play fair is from mid-15c. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. For play the field see field (n.).



Old English plega (West Saxon), plæga (Anglian) "quick motion; recreation, exercise, any brisk activity" (the latter sense preserved in swordplay, etc.), from or related to Old English plegan (see play (v.)). Meaning "dramatic performance" is attested by early 14c., perhaps late Old English. Meaning "free or unimpeded movement" of mechanisms, etc., is from c.1200. By early Middle English it could mean variously, "a game, a martial sport, activity of children, joke or jesting, revelry, sexual indulgence." Sporting sense "the playing of a game" first attested mid-15c.; sense of "specific maneuver or attempt" is from 1868. To be in play (of a hit ball, etc.) is from 1788. Play-by-play is attested from 1927. Play on words is from 1798. Play-money is attested from 1705 as "money won in gambling," by 1920 as "pretend money."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with nonplaying


In addition to the idioms beginning with play

  • play along
  • play a losing game
  • play around
  • play at
  • play a waiting game
  • play back
  • play ball
  • play both ends against the middle
  • play by ear
  • play cat and mouse
  • play down
  • played out
  • play fair
  • play false
  • play fast and loose
  • play footsie
  • play for
  • play for keeps
  • play for laughs
  • play for time
  • play games
  • play hardball
  • play hard to get
  • 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 one's cards close to one's chest
  • play one's cards right
  • play one's trump card
  • play on words
  • 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 upon
  • play up to
  • play with fire

also see:

  • all work and no play
  • child's play
  • devil's advocate, play
  • fair play
  • foul play
  • game that two can play
  • grandstand play
  • in play
  • make a play for
  • musical chairs, play
  • squeeze play
  • trump card, play one's
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.