Synonyms of play in English:


See definition of play


1‘the children were playing with toys on the floor’


amuse oneself, entertain oneself, enjoy oneself, have fun, have a good time, relax, rest, be at leisure, occupy oneself, divert oneself, play games, frolic, frisk, gambol, romp, cavort, caper

informal mess about, mess around, lark, lark about, lark around

dated sport

archaic, humorous disport oneself

2‘I used to play football’


take part in, participate in, engage in, be involved in, join in, compete in, do

3‘Liverpool play Sheffield United on Wednesday’


compete against, contend against, oppose, take on, challenge, vie with, rival

4‘he was about to play Macbeth’


act the part of, play the part of, act, take the role of, enact, represent, perform, appear as, portray, depict, impersonate, pretend to be, execute, render, interpret

rare personate

5‘he never learned to play a musical instrument’


perform on, make music on

blow, sound, strum

6‘his hair gleamed as the sunlight played on it’


move lightly, dance, flit, dart, ripple, lick, touch


1‘one must strike a balance between work and play’


amusement, entertainment, relaxation, recreation, enjoyment, pleasure, diversion, distraction, leisure, fun, games, fun and games

playfulness, horseplay, skylarking, larks, a good time, jollification, junketing, merrymaking, revelry

informal living it up

dated sport



2‘a play by Shakespeare’


drama, stage play, stage show, theatrical work, theatrical piece, radio play, television play, teleplay, screenplay, comedy, tragedy, farce, sketch

production, performance, spectacle, show

3‘they have understood the play of the real world’


action, activity, operation, movement, motion, agency, employment, working, function, functioning, exercise, interaction, interplay

4‘the steering rack was loose, and there was a little play’


movement, freedom of movement, free motion, slack, give

room to manoeuvre, room to operate, scope, latitude, elbow room, space, margin

5‘we enable people to give full play to their energy and abilities’


scope, range, latitude, liberty, licence, freedom, indulgence, free rein, release


    play around

      ‘I played around a bit but now I've settled down’


      womanize, philander, have affairs affair, have an affair, flirt, dally, toy with someone's affections, trifle with someone's affections

      carry on, mess about, mess around, play the field, play away, sleep around, swing, be a man-eater

      North American

      fool around

      vulgar slang

      screw around



    play at

      ‘like a dictator he will play at being kind and good’


      pretend to be, give the appearance of, affect the role of, assume the role of, pass oneself off as, masquerade as, profess to be, pose as, impersonate, make out, fake, feign, simulate, affect, go through the motions of

      North American informal

      make like

    play ball

      ‘if you play ball, I can help you’


      cooperate, collaborate, play along, play the game, go along with the plan, show willing, be willing, help, lend a hand, assist, be of assistance, contribute, reciprocate, respond

      pitch in

    play something down

      ‘ministers sought to play down the extent of the damage’


      make light of, make little of, make nothing of, set little store by, set no store by, gloss over, de-emphasize, underemphasize, downplay, understate, underplay, minimize, shrug off

      soft-pedal, tone down, diminish, downgrade, trivialize, detract from, underrate, underestimate, undervalue, think little of, disparage, decry, deprecate, talk down, belittle, slight, scoff at, sneer at







    play for time


      use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, gain time, hang back, hang fire, hold back, procrastinate, beat about the bush, drag one's feet, delay, filibuster, stonewall

    play havoc with

      ‘dust will play havoc with electrical systems’


      disturb, disrupt, disorder, disorganize, disarrange, interfere with, upset, unsettle, convulse

      obstruct, impede, hamper

      hold up, delay, retard, slow, slow down

      throw into confusion, throw into disorder, throw into disarray, cause confusion in, cause turmoil in, derange, turn upside-down, make a mess of

      ruin, wreck, spoil, undo, mar, frustrate, blight, crush, quell, quash, dash, scotch, shatter, devastate, demolish, sabotage


      mess up, screw up, louse up, foul up, make a hash of, do in, put paid to, put the lid on, put the kibosh on, stymie, queer, nix, banjax, blow a hole in

      British informal

      scupper, dish, throw a spanner in the works of

      North American informal

      throw a monkey wrench in the works of

      Australian informal

      euchre, cruel

    play it by ear

      ‘he had no special game plan and said he would play it by ear’


      improvise, extemporize, ad lib

      make it up as one goes along, take it as it comes, think on one's feet

      ad libitum


      busk it, wing it


      improvise, extemporize, rise to the occasion, ad lib

      take it as it comes

      ad libitum


      busk it, wing it

    play on

      ‘it is despicable to play on the fears of ordinary people’


      exploit, take advantage of, use, make use of, turn to account, turn to one's account, profit by, capitalize on, impose on, trade on, milk, abuse, misuse


      walk all over

    play out

      1‘the position of the sub-tropical jet stream across North America will determine how winter plays out’


      turn out, work out, conclude, end, end up, result, come out, fall out, develop, evolve

      2‘this scenario plays out all across the country’


      happen, occur, take place, come about, come to pass, crop up, turn up, arise, chance, ensue, befall, be realized, take shape, transpire



    play something out

      ‘the simmering tension between them is played out against the sweep of world events’


      portray, represent, depict, characterize, describe, present

      enact, perform, render, act, stage

      express, give expression to, communicate, set forth, articulate

    played out

      ‘the melodrama is a little played out to be entirely satisfying’


      stale, hackneyed, well-worn, clichéd, stock, trite, banal, worn out, time-worn, threadbare, hoary, tired, overused, obsolete, antiquated, finished, old

      clapped out, old hat, hacky

    play a part in

      ‘historical events have also played a part in directing these efforts’


      contribute to, be instrumental in, be a factor in, be partly responsible for, have a hand in, be conducive to, make for, lead to, cause, give rise to

      help, promote, advance, further, forward, oil the wheels of, open the door for, add to


      conduce to


      stand in the way of

    play the fool


      clown about, clown around, act the clown, act the fool, fool about, fool around, mess about, mess around, monkey about, monkey around, footle about, footle around, joke, play pranks, indulge in horseplay


      horse about, horse around, screw around, puddle about, puddle around, act the goat, lark about, lark around

      British informal

      muck about, muck around, fanny about, fanny around

      British vulgar slang

      piss about, piss around, arse about, arse around


      play the giddy goat

    play the game

      ‘I don't trust them—they don't always play the game’


      play fair, be fair, play by the rules, abide by the rules, follow the rules, conform, be a good sport, toe the line, keep in step

    play up

      1‘there were some boys that really did play up’


      misbehave, be misbehaved, behave badly, be bad, be naughty, be mischievous, get up to mischief, be disobedient, be awkward, cause trouble, give trouble, make trouble

      British informal

      be stroppy, be bolshie

      2‘the boiler's playing up again’


      not work properly, be defective, be faulty, malfunction, act up, give trouble

      be on the blink, go on the blink

      3‘his injured leg was playing up’


      be painful, hurt, ache, be sore, cause pain, cause discomfort, cause trouble, annoy

      kill someone, give someone gyp

    play something up

      ‘the press has played up the problems’


      emphasize, lay emphasis on, put emphasis on, accentuate, bring attention to, call attention to, draw attention to, focus attention on, point up, underline, underscore, highlight, spotlight, foreground, feature, give prominence to, bring to the fore, heighten, stress, accent

    play up to

      ‘he's been playing up to her the whole time’


      ingratiate oneself with, seek the favour of, try to get on the good side of, curry favour with, court, fawn on, fawn over, make up to, keep someone sweet, toady to, crawl to, grovel to, pander to, be obsequious towards, truckle to, flatter


      soft-soap, suck up to, butter up, be all over, lick someone's boots, brown-nose

      vulgar slang

      kiss someone's arse, lick someone's arse

    bring into play

      ‘all of these factors are brought into play in the strategic planning process’


      use, employ, exercise, make use of, utilize, avail oneself of, put to use

      practise, apply, bring to bear, implement, exert, wield

    play on words

      ‘its very title turns out to be a play on words’


      pun, wordplay, double entendre, double meaning, innuendo, witticism, quip, quibble


      paronomasia, equivoque, amphibology, pivot, calembour, carriwitchet, clench, clinch, conundrum, nick, pundigrion, whim