Play It By Ear: What does “Play It By Ear” Mean? with Helpful Examples

Last Updated on March 18, 2020

The idiomatic phrase “play it by ear” is a popular idiom used today as a part of everyday conversation and writing. Here you will find the meaning of this phrase and its origin story. You will also be provided with some conversation/statement examples to help you understand how they are used in everyday communication.

Play It By Ear

Play It By Ear Meaning

“Play it by ear” means that you have no plan in regards to a given situation and are just going to decide your actions or reactions as the situation progresses.

Origin of this idiomatic expression

This idiomatic phrase began in the world of musicians. The phrase was originally used to describe musicians who could play just by listening to the music rather than reading the musical notes from a sheet of paper. In the 20th century, the phrase made its way mainstream when a story was published about a baseball team and the current meaning of the figurative phrase was adopted.

Play It By Ear

Examples in Statements

A statement made in a local newspaper.

  • “The participants have all agreed to play it by ear after the inclement weather forced the cancellation of the race.”

A statement made during a speech.

  • Playing it by ear is the safest choice in this situation.”

Examples in Conversations

A conversation between a girl and a boy.

  • Boy: Hey, Sammie, would you like to go out with me on Friday night?
  • Girl: Sure, Brian, I would love to.
  • Boy: What would you like to do?
  • Girl: I say we just play it by ear.

A conversation between two team members at work.

  • Member 1: Do you know when Melissa is going to be done with her part of the project?
  • Member 2: No, I guess we will just have to play it by ear.

More useful examples:

  • We’ll see what the weather’s like and play it by ear.
  • If you play it by ear, you can lose your chance.
  • John decided to play it by ear when he went for this interview.
  • In this game, you have to play it by ear sometimes.
  • It is a complex situation – you’d better play it by ear.

Other Ways to Say “Play It By Ear”

There are several ways to say “play it by ear” in a literal way. Things you could say to convey the same meaning include:

  • We’ll just have to see how it goes
  • Let’s wait and see what happens
  • Let’s find out when we get there

Play It By Ear Meaning | Image

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