Intermediate+ Word of the Day: rule

rule (noun, verb) /rul/ LISTEN

You can use a ruler to help you rule lines on a piece of paper.

A rule is a principle that says how things are to be done and how people are to behave, and it is also a normal practice or way something is. Rule also means ‘control’ or ‘domination’ and is also the code of regulations for a religious community. As a verb, rule means ‘to control or use power over something or someone,’ ‘to declare with authority,’ and ‘to be prevalent’. It also means ‘to mark (a paper) with lines.’

Example sentences

  • There is a rule that all children at this school have to wear a uniform.
  • Finishing my work early on Fridays has become the rule, rather than the exception.
  • We are lucky that this country is under the rule of a democratic government and not a dictator.
  • All the members of this religion are expected to obey the rule of the order.
  • The village elders rule this community.
  • The judge ruled that the company was negligent and ordered them to pay compensation.
  • Whenever the teacher left the room, chaos ruled.
  • If you have trouble keeping your writing straight, try ruling the page first.

Words often used with rule

as a rule: generally, usually. Example: “As a rule, I get up early and go for a run before work.”

the rules of the game: the way something is normally done. Example: “I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but those are the rules of the game.”

rules are made to be broken: rules are good as guidance, but sometimes you have to do things differently. Example: “My diet doesn’t allow me to eat ice cream, but rules are made to be broken.”

rule out: dismiss something completely. Example: “The workforce wanted to reorganize their working hours into a four-day week, but management ruled it out.”

rule the roost: be in charge or dominant. Example: “In our house, it’s definitely my mother who rules the roost.”

rule of thumb: a broad principle or approximate way of doing things. Example: “When making pastry, as a rule of thumb, you should use half the amount of fat to the amount of flour.”

In pop culture

The Cider House Rules is the title of a 1999 movie. You can see the trailer for it here:

Did you know?

Informally, rule can also be used without an object to mean that something is the best. Example: “When it comes to online dictionaries, WordReference rules!”


Rule, meaning ‘principle governing conduct,’ as well as ‘formula with which conduct must comply,’ dates back to around the year 1200, in the form of the Middle English noun riule or reule. It came into English from the Old French riule and the Norman reule (rule, custom or order), which can be traced back to the Vulgar Latin and Latin rēgula (‘a straight stick, bar or ruler,’ and figuratively, ‘a pattern or model’), related to the verb rēgulāre (to rule, straighten or guide), and the Proto-Indo-European root reg– (‘to move in a straight line,’ and figuratively ‘to lead or rule’). Rule is related to the French règle, the Spanish regla, the Italian regola and the Portuguese regra (all meaning rule), as well as the Sanskrit raj– (a king or leader), the Persian rahst (right or correct), the Latin rex (king) and rectus (right, correct), the Greek oregein (to reach or extend), the Old Irish ri and Gaelic righ (a king), the Gothic reiks (leader) and raihts (straight or right), the Lithuanian raižytis (to stretch yourself), the Old English rice (kingdom), –ric (king) and riht (correct), and many English words, including address, alert, arrogant, correct, direct, dress, interrogate, rack, rail, rake, rank, real, reckless, rectangle, regular, rich, right and surge. The sense ‘a strip used for measuring or making lines’ dates back to the 14th century, while ‘regulation for gameplay’ first appeared in the late 17th century. The verb, meaning ‘to control, guide or direct,’ also dates back to around the year 1200, as the Middle English verb riwlen, reulen or rewellen. It came into English from the Old French riuler (to impose or rule), from the same Latin source as the noun. The legal sense ‘to establish by decision’ was first used in the early 15th century, while ‘to mark with lines is from the late 16th century. The sense ‘to dominate or prevail’ first appeared in the mid-19th century.

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