The laws of badminton

Badminton is played by two opposing sides consisting of either one (singles) or two (doubles) players. Players at opposite ends of a rectangular court (separated by the net) try to hit the shuttlecock into the court of their opponents in such a way that it touches the ground inside the boundaries of the court before it can be returned. The shuttle is not allowed to bounce before it is returned.

The following paragraphs are intended to provide a brief introduction to the basic rules of badminton. (See links in the box for a full set of rules).



English Badminton Association
VBL / VVBBC edition - in Dutch


List of approved shuttles
Rules of the VVBBC Competition
All sets of rules from the VBL

The Court
Badminton Court

The court is 13.40m long and 5.10m (singles) or 6.10m (doubles) wide. The height of the net is 1.524m over the centre of the court, but 1.55m over the side lines of the doubles court.

The singles court always covers the full length of the court, from base line to base line, both in normal play and for the service. Similarly, singles are always played on the narrow court.

Doubles are always played on the wide court. During a rally, the base line at the back of the court marks the end of the court. However, a doubles service must be played into the short service court, marked by the doubles service line 80 centimetres before the base line.

Doubles and Singles

Badminton can be played by two or four players. In a singles, two players play against each other. A doubles consists of two opposing pairs of players. Badminton is one of the few sports where men and ladies compete in one discipline, so in addition to the usual ladies and men's singles and doubles, there is also a mixed doubles discipline.


A badminton match commonly consists of up to three sets. The side that first reaches 21 points wins a set (exception: when there is no two-point difference - see below). The side that first wins two sets wins the match. A third set is played if, after two sets, both sides have won one each.

After each set, the sides change ends. A short break of up to 90 seconds can be made between sets and in the middle of each set, when the first player reaches 11 points. Strictly speaking, the players may not leave the court during the break, but coaching is allowed.


A rally is won by one side if it plays the shuttle in such a way that it cannot be returned by the opponents and hits the ground inside the opponent's court (including on the lines), if the opponent's return does not cross the net or if the opponent's return hits the ground outside the court boundaries. Furthermore, a side wins the rally if:

  • (one of) the opposing player(s) touches the shuttle with the body before it hits the ground (whether inside or outside the court)
  • (one of) the opposing player(s) touches the net with the racket or the body while the shuttle is in the air
  • (one of) the opposing player(s) hits the shuttle before it has crossed the net (i.e. reaching over to the opponent's side of the court)
  • both players of one side in a doubles touch the shuttle
  • one player touches the shuttle more than once
  • a faulty service is played

The basic scoring rules are:

  • The winner of each rally scores a point, regardless of who is serving. This means that every mistake, even a faulty service, wins the opponent a point. (Avoidable) mistakes are thus penalised quite heavily.
  • The player winning a rally scores a point and simultaneously wins (or keeps) the right to serve.
  • The winning score in each set is 21 points, but to win a set, a side must lead their opponents by two points or more (see below).
  • A player must lead his/her opponents by a minimum of two points in order to win a set. The closest possible winning score with 21 points is therefore 21-19. If the score reaches 20-20, the set is won by the first player or pair building up a two point lead or by the first player or pair to score 30 points. This means that possible winning scores are 22-20, 21-23, 22-24,…, 29-27, 30-28 - or 30-29: if score reaches 29-29, the next player to score a point wins the set with a score of 30-29. This is the only exception when no margin of two points is needed to win a set.
  • The winning score for a set is the same in all five disciplines.
  • Even in a doubles, each side only has one service. As in the singles disciplines, the service is played from the left or the right service court, depending on whether the score of the serving side is odd or even. The service is always played from the left service court if the serving side's score is odd or from the right service court if it is even. In doubles, players of the serving side change service courts with every point they score, but if a side scores a point without having served, they do not change service courts.

Every service, in singles and doubles, must be played across the front service line, nearly 2 metres away from the net, and always into the diagonally opposite service court. Each side has one service (in singles and in doubles). If the serving side's score is even, the service must be played from the right service court, if it is odd, from the left service court. The first service (at 0-0) is always played from the right service court.

If the serving side scores a point, it keeps the service and starts the next rally with a new service from the left or right service court, depending on whether its score is odd or even. If the returning side scores a point, it also wins the right to serve. This principle applied to singles as well as to doubles matches.

In singles, the position of the serving player is easy to ascertain as it always and only depends on whether the serving player's score is odd (left service court) or even (right service court).

In doubles, a little more care needs to be taken as the two players of a side take it in turns to serve. Again, the service court from which the service is played depends on whether the score is odd (left) or even (right). If the side of the serving player scores a point, the player keeps the right to serve and moves to the other service court for the next service. This procedure continues until the returning side wins a point. In this case, they also win the right to serve, but they do not change service courts at that point. Service courts are only changed by the serving side.

Who Serves First?

At the beginning of each match, a toss is made to determine which side serves first. The winner of the toss can chose whether to make the first service of the match or whether to return first, thus leaving the first service to the opponent. The side that lost the toss can then chose on which end of the court they want to start.

Alternatively, the side that wins the toss may also choose to select the end of the court on which he/she/they want(s) to start. The right to decide who makes the first service in the match then goes to the side that lost the toss.