‘Play Devil's Advocate’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on April 10, 2023

Has someone told you not to ‘play the devil’s advocate’? Are you wondering what they meant by it? In this article, we’ll go over the meaning and origin and provide examples of how to use them in a sentence.

In short:

  • ‘Play devil’s advocate’ means presenting a counterargument that might be different than the opinion of others, just for the heck of it.

Essentially, it means someone who argues against something just for the sake of arguing without actually being committed to the views they’re expressing.

What Does ‘Play Devil’s Advocate’ Mean?

‘Play devil’s advocate’ is an American idiomatic expression that means to present an argument for no reason. You might hear someone say that they’re going to ‘play the devil’s advocate’ and bring up a topic in conversation that might not go over well.

For example, if you’re hanging out with a group of people who you know are Democrats, and you start bringing up ideas that might be seen as Republican (even though you’re a Democrat, too), you’re playing the devil’s advocate.

In the movie, The Devil’s Advocate, Kevin Lomax is an attorney who’s never lost a case. But in the middle of defending a schoolteacher, Lloyd Gettys, against a child molestation charge, he realizes his client is guilty.

So, he’s defending a client whose innocence he no longer believes in. He’s playing the devil’s advocate, literally, in this case.

  • The phrase basically means that you’re defending or arguing for something you don’t believe in yourself.

Where Does ‘Play Devil’s Advocate’ Mean?

The phrase ‘play devil’s advocate’ is said to have come from Pope Leo X in the early 15th century.

But other sources say that the expression comes from the 18th-century Latin expression ‘advocatus diaboli.’

  • The phrase was used to suggest that the person was mischievous and contradictory.

Back then, the phrase wasn’t seen in such a negative light. It was seen as more like a ‘chamberlain,’ basically a job title.

Examples of ‘Play Devil’s Advocate’ in Sentences 

How would you use ‘play devil’s advocate’ in a sentence?

Let’s see some examples:

  • When I go out with my friends, I like to play devil’s advocate to keep the conversation interesting. If we all agree with each other, where’s the fun in that?
  • My ex-boyfriend used to play devil’s advocate with everyone he met. I think he liked to argue, which was the main reason I broke up with him. I’m grateful I got out when I did.
  • Over time, I started to play devil’s advocate whenever I found the conversation boring. It’s a fun way to entertain myself without being rude.
  • The color of Harriet’s cheeks told me I was playing devil’s advocate quite well. She wasn’t expecting me to take up for the opposing side of the argument.
  • We don’t normally play devil’s advocate, but that lady wouldn’t stop pestering that young woman. We had to say something.
  • I’m not a fan of playing devil’s advocate. It’s probably because I hate confrontation, and I would only be inviting an argument, especially with this crowd. Birds of a feather flock together, right?
  • You’re risking a lot if you plan on playing devil’s advocate with the women in this social circle. You’ll be eaten alive, and then they’ll make you a social pariah.
  • You have to be crazy to play devil’s advocate right now. These mothers will rip you apart if you go against the grain.

Other Ways to Say ‘Play Devil’s Advocate’

What other ways could you say ‘play devil’s advocate’?

Let’s see some examples:

  • Be a critic
  • Go against the grain
  • Swim upstream
  • Pretend to disagree
  • Pretend to disapprove
  • Advocate an opposing viewpoint
  • Pretend to be against
  • Debater
  • Arguer

Concluding Thoughts on ‘Play Devil’s Advocate’

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘Play devil’s advocate’ means to present an opposing argument that might be different than the opinion of others, just for the sake of it.
  • It means someone who argues against something just for the sake of arguing without actually being committed to the views they’re expressing.

If you ever get stuck on anything or forget what you learned, you can always come back for a quick refresher. We’ve also got a ton of other content on idioms that you might see as you’re learning the language. And there are a lot, so feel free to go browsing anytime.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.