What do you call the action of "describing events as they happen" like sports anchors do? I heard the word "commentary", but I doubt "commentary" actually refers to the action of describing an event as it's happening. Also, I am wondering what the verb might be.

Here's a video example, but I doubt it's needed:


  • Note that anchors don't typically describe events as they happen. The anchor serves as a central focus of the show, introducing contributions by other presenters. Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 23:05

10 Answers 10


The classic phrase for such a description is play-by-play. Literally this means a detailed description of a sports event, describing each event in the game as it happens. But it has been extended to descriptions of other sorts of events, including political ones, on a similar as-it-happens basis.

Such "play-by-play" descriptions arose when games were broadcast by radio, with no accompanying images, because video had not yet been developed. The intent was to give the listeners the same information as they would have if they were physically present. Indeed it gave more, because the broadcaster often had expert knowledge of what to watch for, what was significant, that many people did not have, or not to the same degree.

It is also known as "play-by-play commentary." Strictly speaking the commentary is the account of the event, not the process of delivering that account, but it is often extended to cover the process as well.

The action of doing the description is sometimes called "giving a play-by-play" or "delivering a play-by-play". In either case, "commentary" can be added.

  • 1
    It might be worth mentioning the term color analyst, who works alongside the play-by-play analyst.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 19:46
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    That's not a common term in the UK, where sports involving ‘plays’ aren't popular. (The linked definition notes that it's ‘North American English’.)
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 12:54
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    @BruceWayne In the UK, probably ‘commentary’ (as per another answer).
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 15:44
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    Agree with the other comments. This phrase is not useful outside North America. If you're writing for a North American audience then it's fine: but it's not used internationally. A "running commentary" is what is used internationally. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 11:25
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    @gidds What, like cricket and football don't have "plays"? It's not that those sports don't have plays, it's just not a common term in the UK.
    – J...
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 12:45

It is a verb in British English:

Report on an event as it occurs, especially for a news or sports broadcast; provide a commentary.

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    Indeed, "commentating" is the first word that came to mind from a British English perspective. "Play-by-play" is way down, and sounds American to me.
    – Muzer
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 10:03
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    @Muzer The problem with "commentating" is that it covers a lot of different things. Commentary teams, at least for TV broadcasts, are rarely a single person these days (radio broadcasts may be, I don't know). Two is common for the sports I watch, with one person handling the "main"/"play-by-play" commentary (these are the terms used on the Wikipedia page, for what that's worth), and the other providing colour commentary and/or analysis. Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 12:21
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    @AnthonyGrist I reckon without further context you would assume it's being used in the sense of a "main" commentator. I could be wrong though.
    – Muzer
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 14:43
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    If the as-it-happens nature needed stressing, you could qualify that as ‘live commentary’ (though that's usually assumed anyway, and will be clear from the context).
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 15:46

Running commentary is also fairly common.

running commentary (noun) a continuous spoken description of an event while it is happening


Commentary is the noun, but as you are asking for the action, the corresponding verb is commentate/commentating. Those who commentate are called commentators


There's narrating

verb (used with object), nar·rat·ed, nar·rat·ing. to give an account or tell the story of (events, experiences, etc.). to add a spoken commentary to (a film, television program, etc.)

or cast

In sports broadcasting, a sports commentator (also known as sports announcer, sportscaster or play-by-play announcer) gives a running commentary of a game or event in real time, usually during a live broadcast, traditionally delivered in the historical present tense.

This is used a lot regarding games, such as on Twitch, although there it can be used very broadly: often someone casting a game will be discussing things only tangentially, if at all, related to the game.

Also, while the traditional past tense of "cast" is just "cast", many people now use "casted".


In British English, "live commentary" is probably the most common phrase for this. For example, the national UK radio station that specialises in sports reporting uses it in its schedules.


A less common phrase would be "color commentary", referring particularly to background information provided between plays.


If it specific to sports, as the other answers have said, commentating or running commentary is the common word/phrase.

Reporting live is another which I think has a broader potential context of use. Also, reporting tends to be more about the events with as little 'extra information' as possible, while commentary tends to include some opinion or any other relevant extra information.


"Calling the game" can also be used. The same term gets used in place of "calling off the game" (e.g. due to rain), but there's plenty of references as to it being used to denote commentating.


One answer that I haven't seen here yet is "Casting". A especially eSports, a lot of the announcers call themselves casters, and I've heard the term use in ways like "sports casting".

  • It's mentioned in this answer.
    – user3395
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:30

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