10 English Phrasal Verbs with PLAY

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play against

When two people or two sports teams compete in a game or match.

Whichever team wins this game will go on to play against Brazil in the championship.

Note: Sometimes people eliminate “against” and say: “Argentina is playing Brazil in the championship.”

  • Put it into practice: Think about a memorable game of your favorite sports team. Who were they playing against at the time?

play along

Pretend to agree or accept something in order to keep someone happy.

I don’t like the way my manager conducts our departmental meetings, but I just play along so as not to cause trouble.

  • Put it into practice: Describe a time when you played along. In general, do you prefer to play along, or do you prefer to express your disagreement? Why?

play around

1. Be silly, not being serious

Okay, everybody, let’s stop playing around and get to work.

2. Be sexually promiscuous or unfaithful

She divorced her husband of 30 years after finding out that he was playing around with his secretary.

  • Put it into practice: When was the last time you were playing around? (In a silly, way, not in a sexual way)

play back

Listen to or watch something you’ve recorded

When I played back the recording of the interview, I noticed there was a lot of background noise from traffic.

  • Put it into practice: Do you ever record audio/video and play it back later?

play at

To pretend to be doing something, but not giving much effort.

He’s just playing at writing a book – I don’t think he’s really serious about it.

Note: After “playing at,” use the -ing form of the verb.

  • Put it into practice: Have you ever “played at” doing something, but not really taken it seriously? Or do you know someone else who does this?

play on / play upon

To try to take advantage of something (especially an emotion).

The politician’s speech plays on the deepest fears of the voters.

  • Put it into practice: Think about a movie/book that emotionally impacted you. What feelings does this movie/book play on?

Note: You can also use “play on” to talk about somebody playing on a sports team. In this case, “play for” can also be used:

She plays on the college basketball team in the winter, and on the tennis team in the spring.

He’s from Portugal, but he plays for the Spanish volleyball team.

play out

Describes a situation progressing until the end.

My sister and my mom are mad at each other, but I don’t want to take sides. I’ll just wait and see how the situation plays out.

  • Put it into practice: What’s a situation where you’re currently waiting to see how it plays out?

play up / play down

Try to make something seem more important (play up) or less important (play down).

Makeup can help you play up your natural beauty..

During the interview, she tried to play down the fact that she was fired from her last job.

  • Put it into practice: Describe a time when you have tried to play something up or play something down.

play with

Touch and move something for fun, or simply to occupy your hands

The little boys were playing with some action figures.

She plays with her hair when she’s nervous.

Also, if you are playing with your food, it means you move the food around on your plate but you don’t eat very much.

  • Put it into practice: What toys did you like to play with when you were a child?

Learn more: Different types of phrasal verbs in English

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Phrasal Verbs in English Course

Learn more about the Phrasal Verbs Course