Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you play by the rules?

Or do you think rules are made to be broken?

Today, Aubrey and Lindsay talk about their views on following rules and sharing a conversation on what they experienced growing up.

Listen in and learn new English vocabulary to confidently use when speaking with a native English speaker and even with friends and family.

Do You Follow the Rules?

Are you a big rule follower?

Lindsay is a big rule follower. She has a strong moral conscience which makes her try her best to follow regulations.

But when it’s a fun activity with friends and family, wherein the stakes are less important, Lindsay would not take the rules too seriously.

She shared that there was a time where she had a snowboarding race with a couple of friends, and she cheated.

She went off early just to get ahead because she didn’t want to lose.

This was not a major competition.

This was just a way to bond on their vacation.

She wouldn’t have done it if she knew her friends were taking the race seriously. She wouldn’t be intentional about not following the rules if it would upset them.

So, it really depends on the gravity of the situation.

Have you ever cheated on something that was not serious just to have fun and be competitive?

Diverse Cultures Bring Diverse Rules

Setting rules is different in different cultures.

Some rules are not relative. They are static.

In America for example, because of a wide mix of cultures, it may be different depending on each family.

In this episode, Aubrey shares that growing up, her family was very strict and set certain rules for them to follow.

She and her siblings followed this rule set by her dad when they were kids.

One of them would be designated to feed their chickens and when they forget to feed them, they wouldn’t have dinner.

Her dad would say that if the chicken didn’t get to eat, they shouldn’t be allowed to eat as well.

Looking back, Aubrey finds this very amusing. There was one time she forgot to feed the chickens, so she didn’t get any dinner.

She was so hungry that night that she snuck out to their garden and ate raw string beans.

Norms Change When Families Blend

Aubrey was so used to following rules that when she played a game with her husband’s family it was a new experience for her.

They played Pictionary and they were just playing for fun, and she enjoyed that.

Coming from a different upbringing she found the way they played very amusing.

Have you ever faced a situation where a spouse’s family has a different assumption about rule following?

Rule Following Across Cultures

Some cultures or families have rules that are not meant to be broken.

So, this is a really good conversation to have with co-workers and friends in English.

You can discuss differences to prevent problems.

It’s often in a community or a workplace that people are coming from different backgrounds.

So, it is best to communicate and understand the difference in ways, including following rules.

The same goes with talking about similarities across cultures.

Having the same assumptions or norms in following rules is also be a good conversation starter or a great way to get to know someone.

You can share stories and relate to each other.

Idioms about Rules

Here are a few idioms that you can use to start a conversation with a native speaker:

  • By the book: This is used to express that you must strictly follow rules according to a rule book. The rule book being referred to here is not necessarily a physical book unless it’s in a formal setting, like in an office for example. In the scenario below, it doesn’t mean Aubrey will get a rule book and check it. She’s just saying she’ll make sure to review everything and see if it’s correct.
  • Play by the rules: This idiom may sound childish, but it can be used in Business English as well. Playing by the rules means behaving or following the rules accordingly. This is normally used in sports. To ensure the game goes well and a winner is determined fairly, participants must play by the rules.
  • Follow the rules: This expression is very direct. It just basically means to obey rules or regulations. This reminds us of another expression: “Rules are meant to be broken.” When applied in business, this is commonly seen when abiding in contracts. In a contract, all parties involved should follow the rules stated there.
  • Unwritten rule: These pertain to a rule that is not necessarily recorded or written down in a rule book. It is a general understanding of what needs to be done. You need to consider the culture or other people you are dealing with when it comes to this type of rule. In Lindsay’s experience, when she was in Japan, there were a lot of unwritten rules she had to learn to blend in with their culture.


The set of values are different in every culture and even in every family, which is why rules will be different as well.

From these idioms we shared today, you can use them when talking to friends and family.

This will bring you closer to confidently talking like a native English speaker. You can also practice using these idioms in work as well in either a formal business setting or to learn more about your co-workers.

This can help you collaborate well with others while learning something new about other people.

What idiom will you most likely use the most?

Share with us your ideas in the comments down below with how you’ll use these idioms.

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