Scrabble rules for learning how to play

For anyone looking to learn how to play Scrabble, here are the complete rules you’ll need to know for your next wordy board game session.

Scrabble Rules spelled out on cloth bag and with Scrabble tiles

Get those dictionaries ready – it’s time to learn how to play Scrabble. Luckily for you, the core Scrabble rules have remained largely unchanged since their inception in 1938. Also luckily for you, we’ve put together a beginner-friendly guide to remind you of each key ruling (even the ones long-time players are likely to forget).

Before we teach you how to play one of the best board games for language lovers, we want to remind you that this is a guide to the core rules of the classic board game. If you’re keen on learning to win Scrabble, we recommend checking out our Scrabble strategy guide, as well as our top-scoring list of Scrabble words with Z and Scrabble words with Q.

Here are the official Scrabble rules:

Scrabble rules - photo of tiles spilling out of a Scrabble bag

Scrabble setup

Scrabble comes with one game board, 100 letter tiles, one tile bag, and four tile racks (one for each player). Begin by unfolding the board, handing out the tile racks, and placing all the tiles in the bag. Each player also needs some way to keep score, for example with paper and a pen.

There are many ways to decide who goes first in Scrabble, but a popular method is to have each player pull a random tile from the bag. Whoever pulls the letter closest to ‘A’ in the alphabet goes first. (Be sure to put all these tiles back in the bag before play begins.)

Each player now takes seven tiles from the bag at random and places these on their tile rack. Your tile rack should be positioned so other players cannot see your tiles.

Scrabble rules - photo of Scrabble starting square

How to play Scrabble

Every turn in Scrabble usually involves playing tiles on the board to create a word. However, the very first turn has some specific rules that distinguish it from future turns.

Placing the first word

The first word must contain at least two tiles, and it must be played in the center of the Scrabble board. This word can be played horizontally or vertically, but one tile must be placed on the star square in the middle of the board.

The first player then draws tiles from the bag equal to the number they played. The first word is scored as normal, but the star square counts as a double word square. Let’s look at how scoring works:

Scrabble rules - photo of a pile of Scrabble tiles

Scrabble scoring

Each tile in Scrabble has a unique score that is earned by playing it:

Letter Number in game Point value
A 9 1
B 2 3
C 2 3
D 4 2
E 12 1
F 2 4
G 3 2
H 2 4
I 9 1
J 1 8
K 1 5
L 4 1
M 2 3
N 6 1
O 8 1
P 2 3
Q 1 10
R 6 1
S 4 1
T 6 1
U 4 1
V 2 4
W 2 4
X 1 8
Y 2 4
Z 1 10

Scrabble also includes two blank tiles which can be used to represent any letter. However, they are worth zero points. Scrabble also offers a 50-point bonus to any player who can use all seven tiles in their tile rack in a single turn.

As well as tiles, players can score using the Scrabble board. There are several squares that, if a tile is placed on them, alter a player’s score for that turn. These are:

  • Double letter – Doubles the score of that individual letter.
  • Triple letter – Triples the score of that individual letter.
  • Double word – Doubles the total score of a complete word.
  • Triple word – Triples the total score of a complete word.

Scrabble rules - photos of bonus squares on a Scrabble board

Should your word cross more than one double or triple word square, their effects are multiplied (two double word squares would quadruple your word score, for example, while two triple word squares would multiply your word score by nine). If you’re lucky enough to use all seven tiles and cover some bonus squares on your turn, the 50-point bonus is added after you’ve calculated your word’s score.

If the tiles played on your turn modify an existing word, you score for that complete word too. However, bonus squares only apply to the original word or tile that is placed over them. This is important to remember for words placed after the first turn.

At the end of the game, players subtract points equal to the number of unplayed tiles they have left. If a player has used all of their tiles, their score is increased by the sum of all the other players’ unplayed tiles.

Scrabble rules - the words 'read' and 'rooms' on a Scrabble board

Placing subsequent words

Just like on the first turn, players create words by placing individual tiles in a line (horizontally or vertically) on the board. However, all subsequent words must have at least one tile that connects to an existing word on the board.

The official Scrabble rules list five ways that a new word can be created:

Adding one or more tiles to the beginning or end of an existing word

For example, by adding an ‘s’ to the end of a word to make it plural.

Placing a new word at right angles to an existing word

As already stated, this new word must use one tile from the existing word.

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Placing a complete word parallel to an existing word

This can only be done if all tile combinations (horizontal and vertical) make legal words. The rule applies even if only one or two tiles are parallel with an existing word – a tile can only be played next to another in Scrabble if it creates a word. See the video above for some examples.

Adding a letter to an existing word and playing a new word at right angles

For example, adding an ‘S’ to the word ‘hurts’, and then creating the word ‘snail’ at right angles from the newly-placed ‘S’.

Link two parallel existing words with two or more new letters.

This can only be done on or after the fourth turn.See below for an example picture. Here, the letters ‘A’, ‘E’, and ‘N’ have been played vertically, using the ‘R’ from ‘Brood’ and ‘V’ from ‘Caves’ to create a new word – ‘Raven’.

Scrabble rules - photo of several words on a Scrabble board

Swapping tiles and passing turns

You don’t always have to play a word on your turn. Instead, you can choose to replace any (or all) tiles in your tile rack by placing them in the bag and pulling new ones. This means you forfeit the chance to play a word on this turn.

Players can instead choose to pass a turn entirely. If all players pass twice in a row, the game ends.

Challenging words

A word is considered ‘legal’ in Scrabble if it can be found in a standard English dictionary. This does not include those spelt with an initial capital letter (including proper nouns), abbreviations, prefixes or suffixes, or words that use apostrophes and hyphens. It’s also legal to play the same word more than once.

Whenever a player creates a word in Scrabble, others can challenge the word if they think it’s illegal. At this point, a dictionary (online or print) should be consulted. Players cannot use a dictionary at any other point in the game – only to check the validity of a challenged word. It also helps to agree on what dictionary you’ll use before the game starts.

If the challenged word is found to be illegal, the person who played it must take back the tiles and forfeit their turn. If the word is legal, play continues as normal.

Scrabble rules - photo of a game of Scrabble

When Scrabble ends

As we already mentioned, a game of Scrabble can end if every player passes their turn twice. Otherwise, the game ends when one player has used all their tiles and the tile bag is empty. The player with the highest score wins.

For more games like Scrabble, here are the best tile games around right now. We can also teach you how to win Monopoly, as well as beginner-friendly chess openings and chess strategies.