[ pley-awf, -of ]

  1. (in competitive sports) the playing of an extra game, rounds, innings, etc., in order to settle a tie.

  2. a 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.

Origin of play-off

First recorded in 1890–95; noun use of verb phrase play off

Words Nearby play-off Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use play-off in a sentence

  • Just one mistake, made by “Fred” Merkle, resulted in this play-off game.

    Pitching in a Pinch | Christy Mathewson
  • When Jimenez was ready, Rainsford pressed the play-off button, and for a minute the recorder gave a high, wavering squeak.

    Little Fuzzy | Henry Beam Piper
  • And then for him to play-off like he did, and say he was calling at a neighbor's!

    Motor Matt's Clue | Stanley R. Matthews
  • Then Dad came on the screen with a record player in front of them, and gave them a play-off of my interview with Leo Belsher.

    Four-Day Planet | Henry Beam Piper
  • Standing in the center of the room, he would make an appeal to us in his earnest, inimitable way, not to play off-side.

    Football Days | William H. Edwards

British Dictionary definitions for play off

play off

  1. (tr usually foll by against) to deal with or manipulate as if in playing a game: to play one person off against another

  2. (intr) to take part in a play-off

  1. sport an extra contest to decide the winner when two or more competitors are tied

  2. mainly US and Canadian a contest or series of games to determine a championship, as between the winners of two competitions

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with play-off


See under play both ends against the middle.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.