The word ‘play’ can mean many different things. As a verb, the meaning is to do a sport or activity for fun.
- I love playing badminton. (do a sport)
- Libby is playing with her dolly. (do an activity)
Play is a regular verb. The past tense and past participle is played.
idioms list with ‘play’
- play away (from home) – cheat on your partner, be unfaithful
e.g. My boyfriend has been working late a lot recently. Do you think he’s playing away?
- play ball – cooperate
e.g. My ex isn’t playing ball. I’m going to have to involve my lawyer.
- play by the rules – follow the rules
e.g. No biting, scratching or hitting in the head. If you don’t play by the rules, you’ll be disqualified.
- play cat and mouse – tease/pursue before turning violent
e.g. I’ve been playing cat and mouse with this hot guy, but I think he has got bored of my games.
- play for time – delay something/someone to gain more time
e.g. The presentation isn’t opening. You play for time whilst I sort it.
- play gooseberry – the unwanted third person in the company of lovers
e.g. It’s couples only. Don’t invite Ricky, he’ll only play gooseberry all night.
- play hardball – be ruthless and do anything necessary to get what you want
e.g. Let’s play hardball with the suspect. We need to find out where he dumped the body.
- play it by ear – don’t follow a plan, deal with things as they happen
e.g. I’m not sure who should run with the project, we’ll just play it by ear.
- play second fiddle – be less important than something else
e.g. I’m sick of playing second fiddle to Jeff. I’m way better at the job than he is.
- play the field – have multiple partners
e.g. He’s not marriage material. He likes to play the field.
- play truant – absent from school without permission
e.g. If my son doesn’t stop playing truant, I’ll go to prison.
- two can play at that game – you can copy another person’s strategy
e.g. The enemy has started using cannons. Two can play at that game.
Let’s see these idioms with pictures and meaning using real-life scenarios.
Hey, did you know the verb ‘play’ has many phrasal verbs. Since you like idioms and phrases, you obviously want to improve your fluency and speak like a native.
Am I right?
I thought you might like to learn the phrasal verbs with ‘play’ too. They are very common in informal English and great to know/be able to understand if you happen to be speaking to a native. We use them all the time, like literally ALL the time.