My student asked me if I “played Karate.” I knew what my student meant, but this is not a natural way to ask this question in English. We use the verb do with karate and other martial arts.
- “I used to do Karate, Kung Fu, and Jiujitsu.”
- “One of my English students is in junior high school. She does Kendo.”
How to use PLAY, DO, and GO
play – for games and for sports that use a ball. “I play baseball every Sunday.”
do – for sports or activities that don’t use a ball. “I do karate after school on Monday and Wednesday.”
go – with sports or activities that end with ~ing. “My friends and I will go bowling tomorrow.”
Now with AUDIO – Improve your English listening skills with the Podcast audio of this post at the bottom of the page on SoundCloud.
The English verbs play, do, and go can be a little confusing when we talk about sports or activities. I wrote this post after one of my students asked me about martial arts training.
Here is a helpful guide explaining how to use these verbs with sports, hobbies, and activities.
Table of Contents
When to use PLAY
We use the verb play for games (like chess, cards, or video games) and for sports that use a ball.
- “I play baseball every Sunday afternoon.”
- “Will you play tennis tomorrow after work?”
- “My little brother is always playing video games.”
- “I like to play poker online.”
Examples of sports and activities that use play
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Video games
- Table tennis
Play general meeting
The verb to play also has a general meaning referring to any kind of fun activity done for enjoyment as opposed to work.
Parents may tell their young children to go out and play. This means: to go outside and be active. This is a direction for the children to get some fresh air, play is just a general term that meant to do some activity in this sentence. It’s not only for the children’s benefit, parents sometimes just wanted a break from the children. If the children are playing outside they’re not in the house bothering mom and dad.
Play is often used with the adverb well to tell someone that they performed at a high level.
- Everyone played well last night.
Play is often used with the following prepositions
- FOR – He plays for Manchester United. (Manchester United is his team. He is a member of that team.)
- AGAINST – We’re playing against last year’s champions tonight so I need everyone to play their best. It will be a tough game. (Our opponents tonight are the champions from last year.)
You can find the dictionary definition of play and more examples here.
When to use DO
We use the verb do for sports and activities that don’t use a ball.
- “I do karate on Wednesdays.”
- “Cathy does gymnastics every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. She practices a lot, she wants to compete in a world championship one day.”
- “Jake does woodworking in his spare time.”
Examples of sports and activities that use do
- Kung fu
- Krav Maga
Do can have a general feeling and is often used with pronouns to refer to many kinds of actions.
- Bill doesn’t do anything.
- Why did you do that?
- This will go faster if we do it together.
Here’s a video of Captain America saying one of his famous lines: “I can do this all day.”
You can find the dictionary definition of do and more examples here.
When to use GO
We use the verb go with sports or activities that end with the letters ~ing.
- “This weekend I plan to go snowboarding.”
- “My friends and I love to go bowling.”
- “Let’s go shopping!”
You can find the dictionary definition of go and more examples here.
Examples of sports and activities that use go
- Rock climbing
- Water skiing
- Scuba diving
- Hang gliding
Some exceptions to the play do go rules
Golf – golf can be a verb or a noun. We can play golf –
- My Dad loves to play golf.
And we can go golfing –
- He goes golfing every Wednesday with his friends.
Box can be used as a verb
- He boxed for Canada at the Olympics before turning pro.
Boxing is the sport name
- Did you see the boxing match last night? It was amazing!
We DO NOT
go boxing. This is also true for Kickboxing and Thaiboxing.
Other activities with -ING that are not used commonly used with GO are figure skating and weight lifting. I would use both of these activities as verbs, she figure skates, he lifts weights. We could also say she is a figure skater or he is a weightlifter.
I have heard the activity figure skating used with the verb have/ has to describe practice or training.
“My daughter has figure skating tonight at 7:00. I’ll take her to the rink after dinner.”
Play Do Go conclusion
|play – We use the verb play for games (like chess, tag or Play Station) and for sports that use a ball.|
|“I play baseball every Sunday afternoon.”|
|do – We use the verb do for sports or activities that don’t use a ball.|
|“My sister does gymnastics 3 times a week. She is really good!”|
|go – We use the verb go with sports or activities that end with ~ing.|
|“My friends and I love to go bowling.”|
What do you like to play? What sports or activities do you like to do? Do you ever go swimming? Tell me in the comments.