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Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Know Your Verbs. My name is Alisha, and in this lesson, we're going to talk about the verb "play." Let's begin.
Let's begin with the basic definition of this verb. It's to engage in a game, sport, or activity. Examples, "We play soccer every week." "Let's play a board game."
Now, let's look at the conjugations for this verb. Present, play, plays. Past, played. Past participle, played. Progressive, playing.
Okay. So, now, let's talk about some additional meanings for this verb. The first additional meaning, to spend time doing something fun. This use of the verb is typically used among children. We use this for children and to talk about the activities of children. Examples, "We used to play with the kids in our neighborhood." "Do you like playing with dolls?" In these example sentences, we're talking about the activities that kids do, things that kids do like playing with their friends, playing with dolls, playing with trucks, playing with cars. So, when we use "playing with," it's like there's some kind of enjoyable activity going on and it has a very youthful sound to it. It sounds like something kids do.
A mistake that I hear adult learners make sometimes is they say, "I played with my friends last weekend." As adults, we don't use the verb "play." We'll use it to refer to a sport or to a game, but we do not use it to talk about spending time with friends. As adults, especially American English speakers, we can say, for example, "I hung out with my friends last weekend," or, "I got together with my friends last weekend." That's fine. We do not use the verb "play" as adults. For kids, great, "I played with my friends when I was little." "I played with dolls when I was little."
Okay. Let's go on to the second additional meaning. The second additional meaning is to perform as a character. This can mean theater, it can mean movies, it can mean any kind of performance. Examples, "Keanu Reeves played Neo in 'The Matrix' series." "I want to play a dramatic role someday." So, here, in my first example sentence, I've got Keanu Reeves as my example. "Keanu Reeves played Neo in 'The Matrix' series." So, he performed in the role of Neo. "He performed in the role of" is shortened to "played" there. In the second example sentence, "I want to play a dramatic role someday." "Play" means perform in. "I want to perform in a dramatic role someday." So, this means perform, to play.
Okay. Let's move on to the third additional meaning for this verb. It is to pretend to be a certain way, or to pretend to exhibit a certain behavior. A key here is pretending. Examples, "He's playing dumb. He knows the answer." "I taught my dog to play dead." Okay. So, here, we see "play." In the first example sentence, "He's playing dumb." That means he's pretending not to know. That's what this sentence means. "He's playing dumb." "Playing dumb" is quite a common phrase. It's like, "Don't play dumb," means don't pretend not to know something. In the second example sentence, "I taught my dog to play dead," means I taught my dog to pretend to be dead, or I taught my dog to act like he or she is dead. So, "to play" means to pretend something.
So, the fourth additional meaning here is to perform music. Examples, "The DJ played a lot of great music last night." "Have you ever played this on piano?" So, this is quite simple. It just means to perform music like you cause music to be heard by other people. So, a DJ can play music through a sound system. Of course, we can play instruments like playing the piano, or playing the harp, playing the flute. So, we can use "play" to mean performing music or like sharing music some way.
All right, let's talk about some variations for this verb now. There are a lot of variations for the verb "play." These are just a few that I'm going to introduce. Of course, if you want to know more, I highly recommend checking a dictionary. Okay. Let's take a look at the first one for this lesson. "To play something by ear." This means to do something without a plan. It means to make decisions in the moment. So, examples, "We have no plans for the day. We're just going to play it by ear. I don't want to plan my travels too much. I prefer to play things by ear." So, both of these use the expression "play it by ear," "play things by ear." Meaning, I don't want to make plans. I just want to see how things go. If things are feeling one way, I'll do that. If things are feeling another way, I'll make a different decision.
So, why do we say "playing by ear?" Imagine then if you play an instrument, maybe this is useful for you, but imagine you're trying to play the piano and you're trying to play a melody, you're trying to find a melody. You don't know it, but you listen to each note as you play. And gradually, you can find the melody you're looking for. So, we call that playing, physically playing, performing a song by ear. So, using your ear to listen to the melody and find the correct melody that way. We use the same idea for our activities. So, playing an activity by ear. According to our feelings, we make decisions for the next step. "To play it by ear."
Let's go on to the second variation for this verb. It is "to play with fire." "To play with fire" means to do something dangerous or to do something that's a bit risky, for example. Examples, "You want to confront the CEO about her mistakes? Don't play with fire." "He's trying to date three people at the same time. He's playing with fire." Okay. So, both of these share maybe a risky or possibly dangerous situation. In the first example sentence, confronting a CEO about her mistakes. That sounds like it could be dangerous for someone, potentially, if they don't want to lose their job at the company. So, the speaker recommends, "Don't play with fire." In other words, don't do something risky. Don't do something dangerous. Suggesting that the previous point confronting the CEO is a risky or dangerous behavior. Don't do that. In the second example sentence, we see it in the progressive tense. He's playing with fire by dating three women at the same time. So, that could be risky. It could be dangerous. He could cause fights. He could cause problems. We don't know. But we're saying, "He's playing with fire. He's doing something that is risky or dangerous."
Okay. Let's move on to the third variation of this verb. The third variation is "to play up." This is kind of a slang expression. This is an expression that means to make something seem better than it actually is. So, maybe the true level is here, but when we play something up, we exaggerate it. We improve it, but only with our words. It's not truly here. It's still here. We make it sound better. Examples, "My parents always play up my achievements." "Be careful not to play yourself up on your resume. It might cause problems in the future." So, here, we see "play up" being used to describe someone's life or someone's activities being exaggerated.
So, in the first example, "My parents always play up my achievements." It means my parents make my achievements sound better than they actually are. So, maybe I had some nice achievement, great, but perhaps my parents make it sound like the achievement is even better, even bigger than it truly is, like as parents do. Fine. But "to play up something" means it's not truly at that level. In the second example sentence, "Be careful not to play yourself up on your resume." It means don't make yourself sound better than you actually are on your resume because it might cause problems in the future. So, "to play up" means to improve the apparent quality or the apparent value of something but it's not true.
Okay. So, those are a few new ways to use the word "play." I hope, of course as I said, there are lots and lots of ways to use this word, so I highly recommend checking a dictionary to see all of them. Of course, if you have any questions or comments or if you want to practice using this verb, please feel free to do so in the comment section of this video. Thanks very much for watching this episode of Know Your Verbs and we'll see you again next time. Bye-bye!