Ever heard people playing table tennis and throwing around strange table tennis terms you’ve never heard before? We know how it feels. There are lots of ping pong terms out there, and while you can take an educated guess at some terms, you have no hopes of guessing others.
That’s why we put this informative table tennis glossary together. Hopefully, it can help you better connect with others and enjoy the sport to its fullest!
- Backhand: A shot where your racket is to the left of your elbow (for a right-hander) and in front of your body. Commonly abbreviated to BH.
- Backspin: A defensive type of spin when you strike downwards on the ball causing it to rotate backward. Sometimes called underspin.
- Block: A short-stroke defensive shot where you make contact with the ball right after it bounces. Used against topspin shots such as drives and loops.
- Chop: A defensive backspin shot that you play against topspin. To play a chop you stand a little way away from the table and strike downwards on the ball.
- Closed racket: Any stroke where the racket face is angled downwards to cater to topspin balls.
- Dead: A ball with little to no spin on it.
- Drive: A basic topspin stroke where you strike forward and upward over the ball.
- Drop shot: A shot that bounces close to the net and several times on your opponent’s side if they fail to hit the ball. Great to catch players off-guard who play from a distance.
- Flat: A stroke that strikes the ball virtually head-on imparting speed with little to no spin.
- Flick: An attacking stroke you play against short balls. Use a loose wrist and strike the ball at the top of the bounce.
- Float: A common term for a dead ball.
- Forehand: The opposite of backhand where the elbow is to the left of the racket (for a right-hander). Commonly abbreviated to FH.
- Half-long: A type of serve where the second bounce is either on or very close to the end line.
- Lob: A defensive shot used when you are forced away from the table. You hit the ball high into the air to make smashing difficult.
- Long: A shot where the ball very clearly only bounces once on the opponent’s side of the table.
- Loop: An advanced offensive stroke that imparts heavy topspin on the ball — the most common attacking stroke at high levels of play.
- Open racket: The opposite of a closed racket where the racket face is angled upward toward the ceiling. Used against backspin balls.
- Push: A defensive shot that you use against backspin. Pushes are usually played over the table when you can’t / don't want to attack.
- Sidespin: A type of spin where you strike across the ball from left to right or right to left causing it to rotate sideways.
- Short: A shot that bounces at least twice on your opponent’s side if it is not struck.
- Smash: A rapid topspin shot that prioritizes speed over spin. Employed against balls that bounce too high allowing them to be put away.
- Spin: The rotation of the ball. Created by striking it at an angle with a brushing motion.
- Topspin: A shot where you strike the ball upwards causing it to rotate away from you. The resulting topspin makes the ball kick forward when it bounces on the table.
Grips, Players, and Equipment
- Bat: Another term for your racket.
- Blade: The wooden portion of your racket.
- Blocker: A player whose primary playstyle includes the heavy use of blocks.
- Chopper: A player whose primary playstyle includes the heavy use of chops.
- Flat-hitter: A player whose primary playstyle includes the heavy use of flat-hit shots.
- Handle: The base of the blade which you hold for the shakehand grip.
- Inverted: The most common type of rubber where the pimples face inwards into the sponge.
- Lobber: A player whose primary playstyle includes the heavy use of lobs.
- Looper: A player whose primary playstyle includes the heavy use of loops.
- Paddle: Another term for your racket.
- Penhold: A type of table tennis grip where you hold the racket between your thumb and index finger, much like how you hold a pen.
- Pimples: A type of racket covering where the pimples face outward rather than inward. This causes the ball to behave in irregular ways. There are two types: short pimples and long pimples. The term “pimples” is commonly shortened to “pips”.
- Receiver: The player who will receive the serve.
- Rubber: The common term for the racket covering. It includes both the sponge and the top sheet.
- Server: The player who serves.
- Shakehand: The most popular grip in table tennis where you hold the handle racket like you are shaking hands with someone. This involves holding the handle with your thumb, middle, ring, and pinkie finger, with your index finger resting along the edge of your backhand side.
- Cross-court: Play from one corner of the court diagonally to the other.
- Doubles: A type of game involving a pair of players on each side of the table. Players must serve diagonally from the right-hand side and take turns striking the ball.
- Expedite rule: A rule that comes into play when a game lasts longer than 10 minutes, or at the requests of both players/teams. Once called into effect, each player has just one serve, and the receiving player/team wins the point if they can make a total of 13 returns.
- Game: A term used to describe a set of a match. To secure a game players must be the first to reach 11 points with a clearance of 2 points. If play reaches 10-10 the winner is the player/team who achieves 2 points of clearance first.
- ITTF: An acronym for the International Table Tennis Federation, the governing body of the sport.
- Let: A rally where neither player scores a point. Usually called for a let service when the ball strikes the net.
- Match: The term for the entire competitive sequence against an individual or team. Matches are commonly played best of 3, 5, or 7 games.
- Multi-ball: A highly targeted method of training whereby balls are continuously fed for ultimate efficiency.
- Point: The single unit of scoring in table tennis.
- Rally: The duration of which the ball is in play. Either concluded by a player winning a point or a let being called.
- Set: Another term for a game.
- Singles: A type of game involving one player at each end of the table.
- Third ball: The first ball the server receives after playing their serve.
- Time-out: A brief interval where a player, pair, or team may cease play. Time-outs are usually called at crucial moments when you feel the game/match slipping away.
- Umpire: The official in charge of scoring the match and enforcing the rules.
And that’s all the basic ping pong terms you need to know. We know there are a lot, but don’t feel too overwhelmed. Refer back to this guide as needed, and soon you’ll start picking up the various table tennis jargon in no time at all!