Table Tennis and Ping Pong Terms
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Table tennis or ping-pong is a score-based game where players use paddles to volley a lightweight plastic ball to each other. Players compete in table tennis competitions on the largest stages, but the game's simplicity makes it accessible to players of any skill level.
While it takes little knowledge to enjoy playing table tennis at home, the gym or a local club, understanding the relevant table tennis terms can facilitate fair, competitive play at any level. Here are some of the essential table tennis vocabulary:
Backhand: The backhand is the side of the paddle that connects with the ball when the player reaches across their body, exposing the back of their hand.
Backspin: Backspin occurs when the ball spins in the opposite direction of its motion. A player can put a backspin on the ball by striking downward. As a result, the ball will resist forward momentum when it bounces on the table. Backspin is useful when returning a high-velocity strike, as it slows the ball's momentum, preventing it from sailing out of bounds.
Deuce: A deuce is a 10-10 tie at the end of a game. In the event of a deuce, the game will continue until one player obtains a two-point margin. Players switch service after every point.
Doubles: A doubles match consists of two players on each side.
Double bounce: One way to score a point against your opponent, a double bounce is when the ball bounces twice on the same side of the table. A player may not return a ball that has bounced twice on their side.
Fault: A fault occurs when a player's serve hits the net and fails to land on the receiver's side. Fault serves can hit the net and go over the table on the other side or hit the net and fall back to the server's side. In either case, a fault results in a point for the receiver.
Forehand: A player's forehand is the side of the paddle that exposes the front of their hand during a swing. Forehand strikes generally occur on the same side of the player's body they use to hold their paddle.
Game: Table tennis matches consist of multiple games — often three or five — where players compete to reach 11 points, alternating service every two points.
Grip: There are multiple ways to hold, or grip, a table tennis racket. There is no legally correct or incorrect way to grip the paddle — it is a matter of player preference.
Let: A let occurs when the ball hits the net on a serve but lands on the receiver's side of the table. While a let does not award a point to the receiver, the server must try again. A let can also be ruled if the receiver is not ready at the time of the serve. There is no penalty for consecutive lets.
Lob: A defensive strike that allows the player time to recover, a lob is a shot hit high into the air before bouncing on the other side of the table.
Match: A match refers to a table tennis competition — the combination of three to five 11-point games.
Point: Points are table tennis's score-keeping metric. Players receive points for hitting the ball so it bounces twice on their opponent's side or once before passing the receiving player. The receiving player receives a point if the striking player's shot misses the table or hits the net without passing to the receiver's side.
Serve: The starting shot of each point, a serve must bounce on both sides of the table. The serving player must toss the ball straight into the air — usually between 6 and 8 inches — before making contact. In singles, the serve can land anywhere on the table, while doubles matches require serves to start on the right side and travel diagonally across the table.
Skunk: More of a table tennis slang term, a skunk is a game ends if one player scores seven points before the other scores any or if the victorious player wins by a score of 11-0.
Spin: Players can hit the ball from different angles to influence the way it spins in flight.
Topspin: Topspin describes a ball that spins forward after contact. With topspin, the ball's arc will trend downward faster than a straight shot, allowing the striking player to use greater force but retain accuracy.
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