For a lot of sports such as tennis, basketball etc., the verb play can be used. When it comes to other sports such as judo, powerlifting or even swimming using the verb play feels a little strange to me.

In this case, what do you think the most suitable word to use would be and is there a specific reason why the word play just doesn't seem to fit?

  • The best auxiliary verb for which sport? Different sports might pair better with some verbs that others sports don't—as you've already noted. Also, I'm not sure if asking what the most appropriate is can have an objective answer. It's also not clear that there has be be an auxiliary verb in the first place. It's actually tennis that would seem to be the exception. Tennis is not a verb. We can't say we tennis, but have to say we play tennis. However, that's not required with swim, which is a verb. We just say we swim. Why put anything in front of it? – Jason Bassford Jun 3 at 23:34
  • From what you've said it seems that is just a matter of dining which auxiliary verb goes with each sport, rather than there being any rules that can be applied. – Woodland Jun 3 at 23:53
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    Just curious -- why are we calling these verbs auxiliary verbs? – Isabel Archer Jun 4 at 1:33
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    @JasonBassford Yesterday we went swimming, it was the first time since the lockdown was lifted in Italy. I see nothing wrong using "go" with "swimming" – Mari-Lou A Jun 4 at 7:44
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    @IsabelArcher In hindsight, perhaps I should have referred to it as a "subsidiary verb" so as to avoid confusion with the regular compound term … – Jason Bassford Jun 4 at 11:42

There are three verbs which can be used with sports: play, go and do.

According to https://www.ecenglish.com/learnenglish/lessons/play-go-do,


Play is used with sports that have teams, rules and competitions:

Badminton, baseball, football, golf, rugby and tennis are some examples.

I have been playing tennis for over ten years.

When I was young we played football just outside our house in the street.


Go is used with activities where the activity is in the -ing form.

To camp – go camping

We went camping by the lake last summer.

Other activities that take 'go' are: dancing, jogging, running, hiking, riding, swimming, cycling, climbing etc.


For all other recreational activities we use do. Aerobics, athletics, gymnastics, judo, karate and yoga are some examples.

All young children should be encouraged to do gymnastics.

Sarah does yoga with some of her friends.

Also, please note that using go implies that it is neccessary to travel somewhere (or... well, literally to go somewhere) in order to start doing mentioned sport, but you would actually do sports ending on -ing if you're already at the gym or some facility (pool, climbing gym, etc). Please compare:

I would like to go powerlifting tomorrow.

I often do powerlifting at the California State University gym.

As a result, use do with judo. And the reason play doesn't fit is that it's used, again, with sports that have teams, rules and competitions (i.e. games - football is a game, volleyball is a game, hockey is a game, chess is also a game, although it usually involves only two players, and so on). Hope that helps!

P.S. As it was said in comments, you can use swim without anything, because it is a verb that can stand alone:

Rebecca swims fastest in our class.

I used to swim often when I was 12.

I swam five kilometers.

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  • Whoah.. You got me uncovered, I sincerely apologize. I'll edit the answer right now. And thanks for your comment, by the way! – ambitious_ph1lologist Jun 4 at 7:28
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    Done. Sorry for improper terminology usage. The only thing I can say as an excuse is that I am a newcomer into English linguistics... – ambitious_ph1lologist Jun 4 at 7:37
  • If the answer is correct, and perfecty supported but the terminolgy is wrong, someone will downvote for that very reason. Revise the most common grammatical terms, and you'll be OK. Welcome to EL&U :) – Mari-Lou A Jun 4 at 7:41
  • I definitely will revise the most common grammatical terms in order not to make such mistakes in the future. Thank you very much for pointing out the mistakes without being harsh or mean! – ambitious_ph1lologist Jun 4 at 7:54

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