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Play, go, do : sports verbs in English – Which one to choose?

Sports verbs: play, go, do

by | 5 Oct 2016 | English Language


What is your favourite sport? Tennis, sailing, karate? Do you know which verb you should use with it? Not sure? Fear not, the answer lies on this very page!
There are 3 verbs in English that you can use to say what sport you do:
play, go and do

You already know that we play games. So for any sport that is a game, use the verb to play:
You can play tennis, football, badminton, basketball, squash, hockey, and so on.

If the name of the sport is an activity based on a verb and ends in –ing, then use the verb to go:
You can go running, swimming, cycling, climbing, and so on.

For any other sport, as for the word sport itself, use the verb to do:
You can do sport, karate, yoga, athletics, ballet, and so on.

Careful! There are exceptions for activities ending in –ing where you need the verb do instead of the verb go:
You do fencing, boxing, body-building, weight-lifting.
Why? It is a question of space! If you think about the space you need for boxing, fencing, body-building or weight-lifting, you can see it is very limited compared with activities such as swimming, sailing, cycling etc.

Some prefer not to use do with sports like boxing or wrestling. They will say I box, I wrestle.

There you are! Now you know whether to use play, go or do for all the sports you do or dream of giving a try. Congratulations! 🏆

Do you want some practice? Try this activity: enter the correct verb for each sport. And enjoy yourself! 😉



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  1. Hana

    Very useful, thank you!

    • Yolaine Bodin

      Thank you for your comment Hana. I’m glad if it helped 🙂

  2. Mary

    What can we use for track and field?

    • Yolaine Bodin

      This is a very good question, Mary, thanks for asking 🙂
      I’ll take this opportunity to explain to anyone reading this that “track and field” is the word used mainly in North America, in Great Britain it’s more common to use the word “athletics”.
      Since it is not a game and not based on a verb, you can use “do”. You can say “I do athletics” or “I do track and field”. However, if you talk about the competitions, then you can say that you “participate in track and field”, “take part in track and field” or “compete in track and field”. I’ve also seen a short version used where you can say you “run track”.
      I hope this helps. 🙂


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