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What Does an F Mean in Bowling? 4 Ways to Avoid Getting an F

The red ball rolls down the lane with the finger holes and thumb holes visible following an open frame on a double wood lane.

When anyone new to bowling gets involved in competitive games, many words, phrases, and letters are thrown around that don’t make sense.

It can be incredibly overwhelming to parse out all of this new lingo, but it’s essential to learn about these things to play at a competitive level.

One such letter is F, and it’s something that all bowlers should know about. In this article, we’ll tell you what an F means in bowling and everything else you need to know. 

What Does an F Mean in Bowling?

An “F” in bowling indicates that there was a foul. It means that something happened that’s against the rules.

A foul negatively impacts the player who committed the foul on their turn. Overall, a foul is something you’ll want to avoid whenever possible.

The blue bowling lane sitting on the lane recently hit 2 strikes in a row, then 3 consecutive strikes in the tenth frame.

Types of Fouls in Bowling

No one wants to do anything that will negatively affect their game, so it’s important to know the foul types that exist in bowling and how to avoid them. The three main fouls in bowling include:

Illegal Pinfall

You may not have been aware, but there are right and wrong ways to knock down pins in bowling. Illegal pinfall refers to the wrong ways. Keep illegal pinfall in mind throughout your game to avoid getting a foul this way.

  • Do everything you can to keep the ball on the lane when you roll. You’ve committed a foul if your ball goes in the gutter before you hit any pins. Even if you get a strike (knocking down all ten pins) after your ball goes in the gutter, you don’t get points for pins knocked down.
  • It’s considered a foul when your ball passes through the pins, hits the back wall, rebounds into the lane, and hits more pins.
  • Pay attention to the pinsetter during your game. If it’s not out of the way when you knock down any number of pins, you could hit part of the pinsetter, resulting in an illegal pinfall.
  • While uncommon, an illegal pinfall will be called if a pin is knocked down by someone setting the pins instead of a bowler’s ball.
  • A pinsetter can be the cause of illegal pinfall in the pin deck. If the pinsetter knocks down a pin while moving the downed pins, you can’t credit that pin to your score. 
  • Anytime your ball touches dead wood (pins that were unable to be removed from the lane or the gutter by the rake), that’s also considered illegal pinfall.

Shot Clock

Sometimes bowlers will have a shot clock for their game. This basically means that each bowler will have a specific amount of time to complete their turn. The time limit can be decided on by tournaments, leagues, or even during games with friends.

The idea of this game style is to help keep things professional and move the game along at a good pace. You will get a shot clock foul if you are not able to complete your turn in the time allotted to you. 

Crossing the Foul Line

The foul line is the line that separates the lane from the approach. You will get a foul if you cross or even touch the line as you release your bowling ball. This is called a foul line crossing.

If for some reason, you touch or cross the foul line but don’t release your ball, you do not get a foul. 

What Happens When You Get a Foul?

The penalties for fouls can differ between leagues and tournaments. For most fouls, the offender stands to lose points or even the opportunity to bowl an entire frame.

So in every game, it’s always best to avoid a foul when it’s in your control!

When it comes to an illegal pinfall, if the foul is not the bowler’s fault, they may be allowed to redo their throw.

Fouls that happen due to the shot clock can come with any number of penalties, often established by a league or tournament. Players may forfeit one of their two throws or lose the opportunity to bowl an entire frame.


How to Avoid Fouls in Bowling

Learning about fouls and how they happen is the first tip to help you avoid fouls in future games. When you’re aware of mistakes, you can make it a point to correct them, giving you a better chance of a foul-free game.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • If you can’t figure out why you keep getting fouls, ask an experienced player to watch you bowl. If they’ve seen enough players throughout their bowling career, they’re likely to be able to pinpoint the problem and offer advice on how to rectify it.
  • The foul line is a strict boundary to honor in a bowling game. If you continually cross that line, move back at least a couple of feet before starting your approach. If you’re still having issues, you can always start releasing your ball at least a couple of feet before the foul line. This should be an easy change, especially if you’re giving yourself extra room for your approach. 
  • It seems like getting a shot clock foul should be easy to avoid, but it does happen. Make it a rule to put your phone away for the entire game. Stay engaged in the game even when it isn’t your turn. Not only does this help you avoid a foul, but it’s also polite and respectful to your fellow bowlers. 
  • Illegal pinfall might be the most frustrating foul because it can come down to your skill level, a bad throw, or sheer unluckiness. One way to avoid illegal pinfall is to aim for the head pin, get good ball reaction, and be aware of the pins when they are raked away and how many were missed. Another way to prevent these is to practice, practice, practice. Gutterballs often happen early in a bowling career, but they won’t occur as frequently once you get a handle on things.
The guy in the plaid shirt bowled a perfect game, knocked down all the standing pins.

Other Bowling Symbols and What They Mean

Now that you know that the letter “F” stands for a foul in bowling, let’s talk about a few other symbols you’ll see and use regularly.

  1. X: a strike is represented by an “X” when a bowler knocks down all the pins with one roll.
  2. /: a spare is represented by a right-leaning slash, which happens when the ball thrown second knocks down the remaining pins.
  3. : a miss or an open space is represented by a dash on the score sheet. You’ll likely see this symbol after a gutterball or if no pins were knocked down. 
  4. O: an O around a number means that the remaining pins were in a split after the first roll.

Now that you better understand bowling fouls, you’ll realize that they are much less complicated than you might have assumed. Fouls can be resolved with common sense and practice so long as you know what to correct in your bowling game. 

When you’re new to the game and still getting your rhythm and style down, you’re likely to have some fouls now and then. But you don’t need to worry.

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Almost every player has had their own share of fouls, and even seasoned players find themselves getting a foul now and then. Fouls are intended to keep every game fair and safe. 

If you get a foul, chalk it up to being new to the game and move on. With the information in this article, you’ll likely make fewer mistakes that could cost you valuable points. We wish you the best of luck!