Rules For Bowling

Bowling is a popular sport enjoyed by people of all ages. If you are a bowling enthusiast you have probably wondered about the rules of bowling from time to time.

Though the game may seem simple, there are some important rules that must be followed in order to play properly and ensure everyone’s safety.

This article will outline the basic rules of bowling so that you can enjoy a game with your friends or family without any confusion.

League rules are taken way more seriously than a fun game of bowling, so don’t be a stickler while you are just playing a casual game.

Since some lanes have their own rules as well as the following list so be sure to check with your bowling center if you have any questions.

Here is the Basic Rules of Bowling

Close up of alley at bowling club.
  • There are 10 frames in a game.  
  • Release the ball from behind the foul line.
  • Cannot cross the foul line.
  • Crossing the foul line causes a dead ball.
  • The bowling ball cannot come out of the gutter.
  • A gutter is a dead ball
  • The bowling ball cannot be altered during the game.
  • The maximum score is 300.
  • Two balls per frame (besides 10th frame).
  • Proper attire is required.
  • Wait for the bowler on your right.
  • Wait to go again until the ball returns

These are the basic rules in list format. Below we talk about some more rules and elaborate a little more about the foul line. If you are looking for some tips click here.

When bowling in a league, the rules are more strict and enforced. The main difference is that you have to release the ball from behind foul line.

Legal Pinfall

bowling pins on grey background

Legal pinfall is when the pins a bowler knocks over count towards their score. Here are some examples of legal pinfall that will increase the bowlers’ total score.

  • Only Pins knocked down by either the ball or another pin.
  • Pins that are knocked down or off the lane surface by a pin rebounding from a side partition or rear cushion.
  • When the sweep bar is at rest on the pin deck, any pins knocked down or off the lane surface by a rebounding pin are called pins “rebounding from the sweep bar.”
  • Pins that lean and touch the kickback or side partition are called dead wood. They need to be removed before the next delivery.
  • If you want to knock down a pin, you must throw the ball so it knocks the pin down. If the pin moves off the playing surface, it counts as knocked down.

Illegal Pinfalls

Pins on bowling pinsetter machine

When any of the following occur, the delivery counts but the resulting pinfall does not:

  1. A ball leaves the lane before reaching the pins.
  2. A ball rebounds from the rear cushion.
  3. A pin rebounds after coming in contact with the body, arms or legs of a human pinsetter.
  4. A pin is touched by mechanical pin-setting equipment.
  5. Any pin knocked down when deadwood is being removed.
  6. Any pin knocked down by a human pinsetter.
  7. The player commits a foul.
  8. Deadwood on the lane or in the gutter is used to transport the ball, which impacts it before it leaves the lane surface.
  9. Delivery is made using deadwood in the road or gutter, and a pin strikes one or more pins when it comes into touch with the deadwood.
  10. If an illegal pinfall occurs, the player is allowed more deliveries in that frame. If pins were knocked down illegally, they must be put back in the same place before the next delivery ball is thrown.

What is a Foul?

Midsection of male referee pointing down

A foul occurs when a player’s body encroaches on or goes beyond the foul line and touches any part of the lane, equipment, or building throughout or after delivery.

If a player crosses the foul line they are not credited with any pins knocked down.

A ball is in play after it is delivered by the player until someone else is in a position to make a succeeding delivery.

A local association’s certification and inspection committee may demand that the foul line be marked on the walls, posts, division boards, or any other structure in a bowling center along the regular foul line.

If a player fouls, their delivery still counts, but they are not given any points for the pins knocked down by that delivery.


If you see a pin going past the rake and into the gutter, you should call “deadwood.” This will let the pin chaser or mechanic know that they need to clear the pins. If the rack of pins never was set (meaning there are no pins on the lane), you should call “180.”

Pin Deck

The pin deck is the area at the end of the lane where the pins are set. This area is 60 feet from the foul line and is usually marked with black dots.

Shot Clock Foul

sand timers on a table

A bowler is given a set amount of time to complete each bowl in the frame, which ranges from 30 seconds to one minute. In general, if a player’s turn isn’t finished before the shot clock sounds, it’s called a shot clock foul.

The Goal is to Knock Down All Ten Pins.

The goal of bowling is to knock down all ten pins that are arranged in a triangular pattern at the end of the lane. Each player gets two chances (or ‘rolls’) per turn to do this.

If you knock down all the pins with the first ball, it is called a “strike”. If you knock down all the pins with the second ball, it is called a “spare”.

If there are any pins left standing after you have rolled both your bowling balls, it is called an “open frame”.

An open frame will be scored based on the number of pins that are still standing after both balls have been thrown.

Each Game Consists of Ten Frames.

If you bowl a strike in the tenth frame, you get two more balls. If you throw a spare, you get one more ball.

If you throw a strike or a spare in the 11th frame you will get a third ball to throw to try to increase the number on your score sheet.

These balls are added to the current frame, so if you have two balls left in the current frame and you throw a strike in the tenth, you get two more balls in the tenth frame for a total of four balls.

If you don’t get a strike or spare in the tenth frame, you simply stop bowling and that is the end of the game.

A Perfect Game is a Score of 300.

The Foul Line

When the foul line is in effect if you step over the foul line, any pins knocked down will not count towards your score. The foul line is at the top of the lane and is indicated by a painted line on the floor.

If bowlers release the ball when their body is past the foul line then the pins don’t count towards the score.

Even if the bowler rolls a strike with one of their bowling balls, if they cross the foul line it’s a dead ball.

If your body crosses the foul line in any way it is not a legal delivery.

Lane Etiquette

While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is important to remember that bowling shoes are required to help you slide properly.

You can usually rent shoes at the bowling alley if you don’t have your own.

  • You Should Always Wear Bowling Shoes.
  • Bowling shoes should not be worn outside or into restrooms.
  • Bowl on your own lane
  • Don’t bowl at the same time as someone else on any lane next to you

The Most Points Wins

When pins fall the player scores. So obviously you want to knock down as many pins on each ball as possible. Just make sure you aren’t bowling in the wrong lane.

Two bowlers cannot bowl on the same bowling lane at the same time. If someone is already bowling in the lane next to you, you should not bowl in that lane.

The Playing Area

When the ball reaches the end of the lane it falls into the pit and is then returned to the bowler. The playing area is the area behind the foul line that includes the approach, lane, and pit.

During the shot, it’s important that you are bowling on the correct lane and that there are not any foreign objects in the playing area. If a foreign object makes its way onto the lane, then a foul is called and the bowler may roll the next ball.

Each player gets two balls per frame. If the first ball is a strike then two balls are not needed.

Can You Throw a Bowling Ball Before the Foul Line?

You can release the bowling ball at any time before the ball passes the foul line. The only time that it would be a foul is if some part of your body goes past the foul line before the ball is released.

This rule applies to both recreational and competitive bowlers.

What is the Corner Pin in Bowling?

Corner pins are next to the gutter and can be a little bit scary because it seems like you only have a small margin of error to make a single pin. There is nothing worse than having one standing pin left after your first shot. When it’s a corner pin it’s even worse.

Extra Balls

The only time a bowler gets extra balls in bowling is when you are on the 10th frame and you get a strike. In this case, you get two extra bowling balls. These extra bowling balls are often referred to as bonus balls. If you get a spare on the 10th frame then you get one extra ball.

The 11th frame is only played if you have a strike or spare on the 10th frame. The 11th frame is not played if you do not get a strike or spare on the 10th frame.

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2 Responses

  1. playing a guy who was releasing his ball before the foul line and the ball would roll over the foul line is that legal yes he was using the approach area as part of the lane

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