Know Your English Education

Play up or play down?

What is the meaning of the expression ‘play up’ in the sentence, ‘The twins played up all morning’? (R. Neethu, Vellore)

The expression ‘play up’ has several meanings. When a newspaper or a news channel ‘plays up’ a story, what it is doing is giving the story undue importance. In other words, it is exaggerating the importance of the story. Political parties, across the world, do this all the time.

For a few days, the mystery surrounding actress Sridevi’s death was played up by the various media.

If you wish to win this election, you need to play up your impressive achievements.

The opposite of ‘play up’ is ‘play down’. When you ‘play down’ your contribution to something, you are minimising it; you are not hyping it up. You are not giving the contribution the importance it merits; you are, for reasons best known to you, deliberately making it seem less important than what it is. You may even be relegating it to the background.

The Chief Minister is trying to play down the corruption in his cabinet.

The hospital administration played down the seriousness of the virus.

‘Play up’ can also be used to mean to cause pain or problems. When you say that your computer is playing up, what you are suggesting is that it is causing problems because it is not working like it is supposed to. When your headache or rheumatism ‘plays you up’, it is causing you a lot of pain - preventing you from leading a normal life - at least, temporarily.

Our old TV is playing up again. It’s time we got a new one.

If you ask Dilip to help you with anything, he’ll start telling you how his rheumatism is playing him up.

As for your question, in British English, the expression ‘play up’ has a very different meaning — especially, in informal contexts. When children behave badly, they are said to be ‘playing up’.

The Principal wants us to meet her tomorrow. Our daughter has been playing up in school again.

I need to lie down for a while. The twins played up all morning.

Is it okay to say, ‘She was discouraged to go to the park’? (S.V. Jayanthi, Chennai)

The word ‘encouraged’ can be followed by ‘to’. For example, we can say, ‘The children were encouraged to go to the park’ and ‘Sheba’s parents encouraged her to go abroad to do her PhD’. ‘Discouraged’, on the other hand, is not followed by ‘to’. When the word is used to mean to prevent someone from doing something or dissuade someone, it is usually followed by ‘from’. One is always ‘discouraged from doing something’ — and not ‘discouraged to do something’.

His wife discouraged Ram from going out with his friends. The children were discouraged from playing cricket in the park.


“Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie

The writer taught at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Email

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 9:38:53 AM |

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