Why don't we "play bowling"?
September 27, 2005 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Why is it that we say that we "play football", "play baseball", "play hockey", etc... But we "go bowling", or "go biking"?
posted by keep it tight to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
...because bowling and biking are verbs? :-)
posted by shepd at 7:51 PM on September 27, 2005

Baseball, hockey and football are all nouns.

Bowling and biking are in their gerund forms because they can be used as verbs.
posted by Alison at 7:51 PM on September 27, 2005


Seriously, play tends to shift in semantic meaning when a gerund is attached. Compare "play fishing" with "go fishing". The first sounds like it is describing the action of pretending to go fishing rather than actually fishing. However, I doubt that this is a case of suppletion and 'to go x-ing' probably appeared in the English language before 'to play [noun]'. (Anyone have access to the OED?) 'To go' lacks a consistent argument structure for taking on an accusative noun phrase. However, there are phrases like 'to go nuts', but they tend to be idiomatic.
posted by Alison at 8:11 PM on September 27, 2005

Football, baseball, and hockey are games (as well as sports), bowling and biking are activities (and sports?) but not considered games. You play poker, you go sightseeing. You play hide and seek, you go driving. You play drinking games, you go drinking.
posted by attercoppe at 8:27 PM on September 27, 2005

In addition to what Alison and shepd have said, it could also be that you "play" with others. Bowling and biking are somewhat solitary things.

(and yes, Alison, I have access to the OED, but I'm not sure what you want exactly)
posted by sbutler at 8:28 PM on September 27, 2005

*correction: I meant to say 'blocking' instead of 'suppletion' above

Thanks sbutler! I have access at work, but not at home. I just wanted to see if 'go [verb]-ing' entered the English language before 'play [verb]-ing'. With blocking whatever enters the language first and is used often enough usually wins. This explains why we still have irregular verbs; we use them so often that they don't go away.
posted by Alison at 8:51 PM on September 27, 2005

Do you golf or do you play golf?

I've done both.
posted by ryanhealy at 9:06 PM on September 27, 2005

Yeah, but you go golfing, not play golfing (going along with the gerund stuff above)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2005

Nobody golfs grammatically
posted by wilful at 9:20 PM on September 27, 2005

Probably the same reason we take a walk (where are we taking it?)
posted by johannes at 9:28 PM on September 27, 2005

Sorry Alison, but the "go" entry is way to large for me to sort through.
posted by sbutler at 9:50 PM on September 27, 2005

A french friend of mine asks if I want "play bowling".
posted by nadawi at 9:59 PM on September 27, 2005

I think golfing is a good exception that proves the rule, because it's an activity that is both solitary and competitive, so it tends to have both forms. Though usually I think "play golf" is a more generic term -- i.e. "Do you play golf?" vs. "Did you go golfing?"

Of course, bowling has some of the same qualities, but the non-gerund form does not require a helper verb -- it's just "bowl". And I think "Do you golf?" is even more common than "play golf". That's probably true for most solitary sports -- jog, lift, ski, climb, dive ...
posted by dhartung at 10:03 PM on September 27, 2005

Gee, haven't any of you ever played 10-pins? When I go bowling, that's what I do, every time. Of course, I grew up doing this in an alley, whereas nowadays, folks are more fancy, so they do it at a lane.
posted by Goofyy at 10:04 PM on September 27, 2005

I think it's got to be the gerund thing. The reason you don't "play bowl" is because the game is named "bowling" not "bowl". (The alternate name "10-pins" proves that you can "play" bowling, as long as you don't use the gerund to do it.)

Similarly, you can go shopping -- alone or with friends, as an activity or as a game (Supermarket Sweep?) -- because of the "ing".

In the case of baseball, football, etc., the name of the sport is the direct object of "play" -- what is being played. The "go ___ing" situation, I guess, is just something idiomatic that we do with certain words.

As for "golf" -- it's a verb that happens to be the name of the game, and its gerund is another name for the activity. Ditto all the others (jog, climb, etc.). (Golf is unique among those in that you can also "play" it. Go golfing, play golf, or just golf.) I doubt their solitary nature is the reason for this, and I don't know why, linguistically, that would be the case; maybe someone else can help there.
posted by SuperNova at 10:58 PM on September 27, 2005

The French jouer à (play to) sports and games, but they jouer de (play of) musical instruments.

Crazy, n'est-ce pas?
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:03 PM on September 27, 2005

Thai speakers "play" all games. They also "play internet" rather than use the internet. But then they have the same word for "work" and "party", so evidently can't be trusted to take things seriously.
posted by Pericles at 1:03 AM on September 28, 2005

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