#134 – TO PLAY UP [+ VIDEO]


1. when a child misbehaves, e.g. “The kids were playing up all morning, it was a nightmare!”
2. when something fails to function properly. e.g. “The battery in my phone is playing up”
3. when a part of your body causes you pain or doesn’t function properly “my back’s been playing up again”
4. to exaggerate a problem – make it seem more serious than it really is “Papers are playing up the fighting between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton”


Here’s another phrasal verb lesson for you and today we are going to look at the expression to ‘play up’. ‘Play up’, okay? Now, last time we had ‘play down’ – this time it’s ‘play up’. So, let’s have a look here at oxforddictionaries.com. This is the Oxford dictionary definition for ‘play up’ here. And let’s have a little look. So, according to Oxforddictionaries this is mainly a british expression. I think they use it in the United States, as well, as we will see in a moment, but certainly this is a phrase that is quite often used in British English. And we’re going to look at about four definitions of ‘play up’ in this episode, all right? So, first of all we have the definition that it’s an informal expression, which means ‘when a child misbehaves’, okay? Or ‘when children misbehave’. This is an example here that says: ‘I hadn’t had much sleep, the kids had been playing up.’ Okay? So you can imagine the situation: it’s probably a parent, who is very exhausted or was very exhausted because the kids had been playing up all night, maybe, you know, the kids had been misbehaving, they’d been making noise, they’d been refusing to go to sleep, they’d been fighting each other in a bedroom, you know, the usual things that kids do, that might keep you awake at night, when they refuse to sleep.

Another example could be: a teacher, let’s say a teacher who has got a class full of primary school kids and the teacher has a particularly bad day, because the kids keep playing up. And the teacher comes home and, and the teacher’s like ‘Oh God, what a nightmare! It was a terrible day!’ and the friend says: ‘What happened?’ and the teacher says: ‘It was just a nightmare, the kids were just playing up all morning.’ Okay? A parent might say to a child: ‘So your grandparents are coming ‘round this weekend, so I want you to be on your best behavior! Don’t play up again like you did last weekend!’ Okay? So that’s the ‘play up’ meaning: ‘to misbehave’.

Now, another expression, another meaning is: ‘when something fails to function properly or when something doesn’t work properly,’ especially electrical items. You might say that about your phone, for example. Like: ‘something’s wrong with my phone, the battery keeps playing up. Like, I charged it fully yesterday, I charged it all night and I’ve only used it for a couple of hours and it’s almost dead. So I think the battery is playing up. I think I need to get it fixed or changed.’ Okay? So the battery has been playing up, for example. (It’s not true, it’s working okay.)

Yes, so anyway. You could say: ‘I think I might need to take these headphones back, because they’ve been playing up’. Like there’s something wrong with the connection, all right? So, when my children misbehave, when electrical items don’t work properly. Also you can use the expression to talk about parts of your body. If parts of your body are causing you pain or discomfort. So, typically you would say things like: ‘Oh! My back’s been playing up recently. My back’s been playing up again in this cold weather!’, for example. That just means, that, you know, maybe you’ve been experiencing some pain, some sort of pain that you sometimes have.

Here on oxforddictinaries.com we have this example and this could be something said by a football player after a game, when an interviewer asks to a football player: ‘So, how is your injury? How’s your hamstring injury? Was it playing up during the game?’ And the player says: ’Well, the hamstring wasn’t too bad, but my knee was playing up a little bit.’ Meaning that the harmstring was okay, but his knee was causing him problems. His knee was hurting a little bit. So, my knee was playing up a little bit. So that’s the three things.

The fourth thing is: ‘to make something seem bigger, to exaggerate something’. Okay? And the.. So, if we have a look here on Google this is a definition of ‘play up’ in inverted comments, in Google news the new search on Google and… Let’s have a look at this story. So, if I click that, then I end up here and this is on ‘Alter Net’. This is a story about an American presidential election situation. And this headline says: ‘As New York Media Play Up Bernie-Hillary Fights, Dems Need To Toughen Up’. The story seems to be the New York media have been exaggerating conflicts between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And this has been worrying the democrats. The democrats are worried about it, because they’re concerned that it is going to make democracy look bad in the future. So, the New York media had been playing up fights between Bernie and Hillary and apparently they don’t actually disagree with each other that much. It’s just the newspapers have been playing up the conflict. Okay? That’s basically it.

I just want to remind you to go to teacherluke.co.uk. In fact if you go to teacherluke.co.uk/pv and you’ll end up on the homepage for A Phrasal Verb A Day. There it is. And, so this is my Phrasal Verb podcast and there are, if you check out the archive, there are over 130 audio episodes of A Phrasal Verb A Day. In each one I teach you a different phrasal verb. Almost all of them are audio. I do a few videos as well and there are transcripts available for them too. The whole podcast is available on iTunes and it’s called A Phrasal Verb A Day. Okay. So, that’s the end of this one. I’ll speech you again soon in some format but for now goodbye.