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Ten Interesting Phrasal Verbs With ‘Play’

Do you know that a good dictionary will give you close to forty meanings of the word ‘play’? Yes, you read that right! You might also find it interesting to note that this cool word is actually derived from the Dutch word ‘plien’, which means ‘to leap for joy’ or ‘to rejoice’. Nevertheless, we don’t think we’d be wrong if we said you’d have used this word in more than one way while indulging in generic conversations.

A couple of examples here, nonetheless, may help you grasp some meanings of the word ‘play’. In the sentence, ‘I am playing chess with my sister,’ the word ‘play’ (used in its ‘ing’ form) functions as a transitive verb with the noun ‘chess’ being its direct object; but in the sentence, ‘We watched a short play in the theatre last night’, the word ‘play’ functions as a noun and the direct object of the verb ‘watched’. The verb ‘play’ can also mean ‘to perform’, as one can say something like, ‘It was Arnold Schwarzenegger who played the lead role in this movie.’ Also, I’m sure you would have asked someone to play music for you. Or heard someone play the guitar. Phew… That’s a lot of meanings already!

In this post, however, I’m going to be listing ten interesting phrasal verbs with the word ‘play’. So if you’re ready, let’s go!

Phrasal Verb #1

play about/around

Meanings: (i) to act weirdly or stupidly (ii) to have one or more extramarital affairs

Example sentences:

  • Will you stop playing about (acting stupidly) and start focussing on the job at hand?
  • I surmised Smita’s husband was playing about (having extramarital affairs) when I saw him first, for as soon as I had a word with him, I figured out he was great at womanising.

Phrasal Verb #2

play about/around with (something)

Meaning: to consider different ways of doing a particular thing or trying different things before finally choosing one

Example sentences:

  • I am playing about with all the sparkle pens that I have as I’m finding it difficult to figure out which of those will look great on this coloured sheet of paper.
  • The producer thinks you ought to play about with some ideas before shooting the next scene. He is definitely not happy with the previous shoot.

Phrasal Verb #3

play along

Meaning: to do what someone likes or pretend to agree with someone to avoid making the person angry or upset

Example sentences:

  • I think he is just playing along with all of us since he wants to find out what our next step of action is going to be.
  • He was shocked when he found out that he had been played along by the only person whom he considered his best friend.

Phrasal Verb #4

play (something) back or play back (something)

Meaning: to listen to recordings or watch videos that have just been recorded

Example sentences:

  • Could you record our conversation and play it back while typing out the mail so you don’t miss anything important?
  • He played back the videos we made, and I realised right off the bat that something was amiss.

Note: The word ‘playback’, however, can function as both a noun and an adjective. A playback singer, for example, is a singer who performs backstage. Here, ‘playback’ functions as an adjective for the noun ‘singer’. Similarly, one can say, ‘The playback of the videos they recorded was awesome, so I didn’t have to spend much time working on it.’ Here, ‘playback’ is a noun as it refers to the action of playing back video recordings to monitor their quality.

Phrasal Verb #5

play off against

Meaning: to encourage two people or groups to fight each other in the hope of gaining some advantage

Example sentences:

  • I had a bad opinion of her hitherto. Jacob had been playing us off against each other, but I’m glad I have finally understood his evil intentions.
  • Don’t try to play me off against my mother. She is the only person that I trust.

READ | Everything About Subject-Verb Agreement

Phrasal Verb #6

play on/upon

Meanings: (i) (Sports) Used to order the players to continue playing, especially after someone breaking the rules or suffering an injury (ii) to continue playing a musical instrument

Example sentences:

  • We were flabbergasted to see the umpire asking us to play on despite the wicket-keeper getting badly injured.
  • It was interesting to note that the band played on enthusiastically for almost an hour after it began raining.

Phrasal Verb #7

be played out (never active):

Meaning: to take place, happen, or unfold

Example sentences:

  • The way everything finally played out was embarrassing, to say the least.
  • Given the current situation, their wedding was played out without much pomp and splendour.

Phrasal Verb #8

play out something or play something out

Meanings: (i) to pretend that a situation is real when in fact it isn’t (ii) (Sports) to play a match until the very end (iii) to exhaust

Example sentences:

  • Contrary to what you think, all is well between them. You have only been playing all those fights out unnecessarily.
  • When I asked him to play out the game of chess, he refused and walked away without saying a word.
  • His strength played out very fast, and I managed to defeat him easily in the second and third rounds.

Phrasal Verb #9

play on/upon

Meaning: to manipulate a person to get them to do what you want or to use their fears or inhibitions to get them to do a task you want to be done

Example sentences:

  • Don’t you think guys who market such products play on the fears of their prospective clients?
  • She has played on your weaknesses for far too long, and it’s high time you ended your relationship with her.

Phrasal Verb #10

play down something or play something down

Meaning: to try to convince people that something is not that important or that it may not really happen

Example sentences:

  • Although the COVID-19 case fatality rate seems to be declining in India, I feel the Indian media are playing down the health risks that are posed by the Coronavirus.
  • He played down the environmental hazards that may be caused by the setting up of a nuclear power plant in that region.

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