Scrabble Rules: How to Play This Classic Word Game

Avatar woman looking at Scrabble GO tiles.

Scrabble Rules: How to Play This Classic Word Game

Scrabble first arrived to the masses 76 years ago in 1948. Since then the game has seen many iterations on its way to becoming a game night staple. Originally developed by Alfred Mosher Butts in Poughkeepsie, New York, Scrabble originated as a game called Lexiko. One thing led to another and in 1984, the game turned into a game show on NBC and again in 2011. The game is a phenomenon all over the world and over time the rules have continuously shifted. So here is a definitive guide on how to play Scrabble.

Every Time The Rules Changed

Every Scrabble copy included rules in the box. These rules changed four times. Once in 1953, 1976, 1989, and 1999.


In this edition these rules were established:

  • words can be played through single letters already on the board,
  • a player could play a word parallel and immediately adjacent to an existing word provided all crossing words formed were valid,
  • the effect of two premium squares compounded multiplicatively.
  • The previously unspecified penalty for having one’s play successfully challenged was stated: withdrawal of tiles and loss of turn.


In this edition these rules were established:

  • It was made clear that the blank tile beats an A when drawing to see who goes first.
  • A player could pass their turn, doing nothing.
  • Loss-of-turn penalty added for challenging an acceptable play.
  • If final scores are tied, the player whose score was highest before adjusting for unplayed tiles is the winner; in tournament play, a tie is counted as half a win for both players.


This edition of Scrabble didn’t change the rules at all.


In this edition the following rules were established:

  • a tile can be replaced until the play has been scored,
  • a challenge applies to all the words made in the given play.
  • Playing all seven tiles is officially called a “bingo” in North America and a “bonus” elsewhere.
  • A change in the wording of the rules could have been interpreted as meaning that a player may form more than one word on one row on a single turn.

The Official Rules Of Scrabble

Before playing, it is important to select a word list or dictionary to prevent any confusion during the game. In tournament settings used one of three-word lists. Either the NASPA Word List, the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, or Collins Scrabble Words. 

The Mechanics

When it’s your turn, you can perform one of the following options:

  • Pass, forfeiting the turn and scoring zero.
  • Exchange one or more tiles for an equal number from the bag, scoring zero. Only if 7 or more tiles remain in the bag.
  • Play at least one tile on the board, adding the value of all words formed to the player’s cumulative score.

The first move of the game has to cover at least two tiles and cover the center square. The next player must use at least one of the player’s tiles to form a word from left to right or top to bottom. You cannot form words diagonally and at least one time must be adjacent to a tile already on the board. It doesn’t matter if it’s horizontally or vertically. When a word is formed the player announces the score for that play. If the game is using timed rules, this is when the next player would start their clock. Before the original player draws a tile any other player may choose to challenge the word.

When someone challenges the word the word must be looked up in the agreed dictionary or word list. If the word is unacceptable the play is removed from the board and the player scores zero for that turn. If the challenged words are acceptable, the person who initiated the challenge loses their turn.

The game only ends when either:

  • One player has played every tile on their rack and no tiles remain in the bag regardless of the tiles on the opponent’s rack.
  • At least six successive scoreless turns have occurred and either player decides to end the game. This typically occurs at the end of the game when none of the players can form a valid word with their tiles.
  • In tournament play, if either player uses more than 10 minutes of overtime.

How Scores Are Calculated

The score for words is determined by the following:

  • The value of each tile is indicated with a point value. Between 1 and 10, with blanks worth zero points, and the score of every new word formed is equal to the sum of the point values of the letters in that word. If a word covers any premium squares (such as DLS or TWS squares), the point value of the corresponding letter or word is multiplied by 2 or 3 respectively. The center star is also a DWS square.
  • Premium squares only apply when newly placed tiles cover them. Any subsequent plays do not count these premium squares. A play that covers a DWS or TWS multiplies the value of the entire word(s) by 2 or 3, including tiles already on the board.
  • If a newly placed word covers both letter and word premium squares, the letter premium(s) is/are calculated first, followed by the word premium(s).
  • If a player makes a play where the main word covers two DWS squares, the value of that word is doubled, then redoubled (4× the word value). Similarly, if the main word covers two TWS squares, the value of that word is tripled, then re-tripled (9× the word value). Such plays are often referred to as “double-doubles” and “triple-triples” respectively.
  • If a player plays all seven of their tiles on their turn, a 50-point bonus is added to the score of the play.
To top