General English


  • noun a slightly loose fitting of engineering parts which allows them to move freely


  • interjection the call made by the umpire at the bowler’s end to indicate that play can begin, at the start of an innings or on the resumption of play after an interval or interruption
    Citation ‘The company soon became very large, and by the time “play” was called there were not less than 3,000 spectators’ (Lillywhite 1860)
    See across, back, forward, inside, outside
  • noun the activity of conducting a game of cricket
    Citation ‘At the conclusion of the first day’s play, the Leicester Club went in against 50 notches only’ (Leicester Journal 22 September 1791)
  • noun the performance of an individual or team in a match
    Citation ‘The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play’ (Law 42 § 2)
  • noun the style or skill of a batsman in dealing with the bowling
    Citation ‘The play of Lord Winchilsea was the conspicuous thing in the match … All the five bowlers tried at him in vain’ (Kentish Gazette 21–3 August 1788)
    Citation ‘Grimmett considers Headley to be the greatest master of on-side play whom he ever bowled against’ (James 1963)
  • verb to take part in a game of cricket
    Citation ‘Simpson-Hayward … had been unable to play at Pindi owing to a bruised hand’ (Headlam 1903)
    Citation ‘Worrell was … the first West Indian player to demand a stipend for his services, and to refuse to play (against India in the sub-continent in 1948–1949) when it was peremptorily refused’ (B C Pires, Guardian 28 August 2006)
  • verb to include a particular player or type of player in a team
    Citation ‘We should have liked to play two spinners … but we could not imagine either going in with only two seamers or leaving out a batsman’ (Brearley 1982)
    Citation ‘Will Andrew Flintoff be fit enough to bowl 20 overs in each innings? If not, there is no way England can play four bowlers’ (Andy Bull, Guardian 19 August 2006)
  • verb to stage a match
    Citation ‘A three days’ match was played at the Surrey ground … commencing on the 1st of July, 1847, between the counties of Kent and Surrey’ (Bat 1851)
  • verb to execute a batting stroke in an attempt to hit the ball
    Citation ‘By operating round the wicket and aiming at off stump, Yardley probably forced the batsmen to play more often’ (Michael Carey, Daily Telegraph 15 December 1982)
    Citation ‘Years afterwards, in a quite insignificant friendly match in Lancashire, I was standing at short leg when some batsman played an uppish stroke in my direction’ (James 1963)
  • verb to hit the ball in a particular manner or in a particular direction when batting
    Citation ‘Dyson took two offside fours off Pringle before playing him wide of mid-on for two’ (Henry Blofeld, Cricketer February 1983)
    Citation ‘Lara … was so confident as to play the leg-spinner off the pitch — a good ploy early in the innings against a bowler not previously encountered’ (Paul Allott, Cricketer May 1994)
  • verb to deal with bowling of a particular type or from a particular bowler
    Citation ‘The batting of the Montreal Club was much better than might have been expected. They play fast bowling well, but we should advise them to practise against the slows a little more’ (Lillywhite 1860)
    Citation ‘Harvey alone played him [Lock] well, before being bowled by a ball which pitched well outside his off stump and hit the leg’ (Peebles 1959)
  • verb (of the pitch) to provide favourable or unfavourable batting conditions as specified
    Citation ‘Seven wickets had fallen for 19 runs on a pitch playing little worse than in the first innings when … the same batsmen had amassed 401 runs’ (Brearley 1982)

Media Studies

  • noun a dramatic work written to be performed by actors on the stage, television or radio


  • noun the action during a game or series of games
  • noun an action or move in a game
  • verb to take part in an enjoyable activity, especially a game, simply for the sake of amusement
  • verb to take part in a game or a sporting activity
  • verb to compete against someone in a game or sporting event
  • verb to assign a player to a particular position on the field, or be assigned such a position
  • verb to hit or kick an object such as a ball, puck or shuttlecock in a particular direction
  • verb to make a shot or stroke in a sporting event

Origin & History of “play”

The origins of play are obscure. It had a relative in middle Dutch pleien ‘dance about, jump for joy’, but this has now died out, leaving it in splendid but puzzling isolation, its ancestry unaccounted for. Its underlying meaning appears to be ‘make rapid movements for purposes of recreation’, but already in Old English times it was being used for ‘perform on a musical instrument’. The earliest record of the use of the noun for a ‘dramatic work’ is from the 14th century.