They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly –– the towering white chessmen had no faces.
"Now what do we do?" Harry whispered.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" said Ron. "We've got to play our way across the room."
Behind the white pieces they could see another door.
"How?" said Hermione nervously.
"I think," said Ron, "we're going to have to be chessmen."
He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight's horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.
"Do we –– er –– have to join you to get across?"
The black knight nodded.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

There’s no entry for ‘play one’s way’ in dictionaries but ‘make one’s way.’ Does the highlighted part lend the latter idiom for saying this specific going forward?

3 Answers 3


Way here is used in the sense of “path”, literally, or method, figuratively; and VERB our way is a common idiom meaning to traverse that path by VERBing.

For instance, one of the most chilling moments in drama is Goneril’s line in King Lear, after she and her husband have put out Gloucester’s eyes:

Go thrust him out at gates and let him smell his way to Dover.

Almost any word can serve as VERB; here are a few examples from Google:

How German Companies Bribed Their Way to Greek Deals

Wynonna and partner Tony Dovolani—who was Sara Evans' partner years ago—cha-cha-cha’ed their way to an 18 out of 30. (The cha-cha-cha is a Latin dance)

The team that could build the “coolest” machine out of a pile of scrap metal and spare parts would receive a $10,000 prize. In the meantime, the festival-goers could look on as the hackers DIY-ed their way to steampunk Rube Goldberg bliss. (DIY is do-it-yourself)

‘Did the Patriots cheat their way to another Superbowl? … ‘No, they Tom Brady-ed their way to another one.’ (The New England Patriots are a football team, and Tom Brady is their quarterback)

Ron is saying "To get across the room we are going to have to play chess."


It's all about context. In this case, play our way does mean make our way, but that's because they are dealing with a living chessboard. The only other time it would make sense to substitute "play our way" for "make our way" is when a person is in a casino or some other gaming / gambling establishment where moving from point A to point B could involve playing some sort of game.


When a sentence expresses both the method and the direction of motion, usually the verb conveys the method and a prepositional phrase conveys the direction.

He ran across the room.
He ran into the room.

The direction of motion is usually expressed as a verb only when there is no indication of the method: “he crossed the room”, “he entered the room”. Sometimes the method can be expressed as a complement (“he crossed the room in a run”), but that is unusual and puts a heavy emphasis on the method.

Thus “play across the room” is a natural way of saying expressing the motion crossing the room with the method play. However, saying it this way is difficult to understand because the verb play, unlike verbs like run, does not normally convey the idea of motion. In fact, “play across the room” would normally be understood to mean “play on the other side of the room”.

Adding “our way” injects a clear notion of motion into the sentence: it establishes that there is a trajectory, a path that is followed. On that basis, it becomes clear that the clause describes motion, so the verb indicates the method and the prepositional phrase indicates the direction.

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