two sentences from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
(1) (BrE): She plays in defence.
(2) (AmE): She plays on defense.

As far as I understood, (1) = (2).

the explanation of "to play defense" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
idiom: to play defense - ​(in sport) to try to stop your opponent from scoring

Help me please to understand this explanation by comparing (1) and (2) with the following example I came up with:
(3) She plays defense.

What's the difference between (1), (2) and (3)?

1 Answer 1


I'm American and not familiar with the usage in example (1), but in American usage examples (2) and (3) are essentially equivalent, and in my experience example (3) is more common.

Example (2) "on [the] defense" is used commonly in reference to American football, where typically there are entirely separate squads of players on the field when a team is playing offense (attempting to score) and when the team is playing defense (preventing the other team from scoring). It could also be used in other sports when certain positions are more often engaged in defensive play and others in offensive play.

In games where the same players contribute to both offense and defensive play (say, field hockey, or rugby), example (3) is more common.

  • Example (1) may be used in a game like soccer -- different groups of players have different set positions (e.g. forwards, backs, midfielders). If you're a back (the last line of players before the goal) I don't think it's unnatural to say you "play in defence".
    – Jay Bee
    Commented May 8 at 5:12
  • 1
    @JayBee, BrE or AmE? It's conceivable to say someone plays "on defense" if they are playing a backfield position, but those players can also in certain circumstances advance and play offense. Again I don't think I've ever heard "in defense" used in this sense in AmE.
    – The Photon
    Commented May 8 at 5:23
  • Yes, BrE (or at least - I am Australian and have heard it in Australian contexts, so expect likely to be similar in BrE).
    – Jay Bee
    Commented May 9 at 0:00

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