general rule

noun Law.

  1. See under rule(def 10).


  1. a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.: the rules of chess.
  2. the code of regulations observed by a religious order or congregation: the Franciscan rule.
  3. the customary or normal circumstance, occurrence, manner, practice, quality, etc.: the rule rather than the exception.
  4. control, government, or dominion: under the rule of a dictator.
  5. tenure or conduct of reign or office: during the rule of George III.
  6. a prescribed mathematical method for performing a calculation or solving a problem.
  7. ruler(def 2).
  8. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Norma.
  9. Printing. a thin, type-high strip of metal, for printing a solid or decorative line or lines.
  10. Law.
    1. a formal order or direction made by a court, as for governing the procedure of the court (general rule) or for sending the case before a referee (special rule).
    2. a legal principle.
    3. a court order in a particular case.
  11. rules, Penology. (formerly)
    1. a fixed area in the neighborhood of certain prisons within which certain prisoners were allowed to live.
    2. the freedom of such an area.
  12. Obsolete. behavior.

verb (used with object), ruled, rul·ing.

  1. to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over; govern: to rule the empire with severity.
  2. to decide or declare judicially or authoritatively; decree: The judge ruled that he should be exiled.
  3. to mark with lines, especially parallel straight lines, with the aid of a ruler or the like: to rule paper.
  4. to mark out or form (a line) by this method: to rule lines on paper.
  5. to be superior or preeminent in (a specific field or group); dominate by superiority; hold sway over: For centuries, England ruled the seas.

verb (used without object), ruled, rul·ing.

  1. to exercise dominating power or influence; predominate.
  2. to exercise authority, dominion, or sovereignty.
  3. to make a formal decision or ruling, as on a point at law.
  4. to be prevalent or current: Higher prices ruled throughout France.

Verb Phrases

  1. rule out,
    1. to prove to be unrelated or not for consideration; eliminate; exclude: to rule out the possibility of error.
    2. to make impossible or impracticable: The rainstorm ruled out the holiday camping.

  1. as a rule, generally; usually: He arrives at eleven o’clock, as a rule.
  2. rule the roost. roost(def 7).


  1. an authoritative regulation or direction concerning method or procedure, as for a court of law, legislative body, game, or other human institution or activityjudges’ rules; play according to the rules
  2. the exercise of governmental authority or controlthe rule of Caesar
  3. the period of time in which a monarch or government has powerhis rule lasted 100 days
  4. a customary form or procedure; regular course of actionhe made a morning swim his rule
  5. the rule the common order of things; normal conditionviolence was the rule rather than the exception
  6. a prescribed method or procedure for solving a mathematical problem, or one constituting part of a computer program, usually expressed in an appropriate formalism
  7. a formal expression of a grammatical regularity in a linguistic description of a language
  8. any of various devices with a straight edge for guiding or measuring; rulera carpenter’s rule
    1. a printed or drawn character in the form of a long thin line
    2. another name for dash 1 (def. 13) en rule; em rule
    3. a strip of brass or other metal used to print such a line
  9. Christianity a systematic body of prescriptions defining the way of life to be followed by members of a religious order
  10. law an order by a court or judge
  11. as a rule normally or ordinarily


  1. to exercise governing or controlling authority over (a people, political unit, individual, etc)he ruled for 20 years; his passion for her ruled his life
  2. (when tr, often takes a clause as object) to decide authoritatively; decreethe chairman ruled against the proposal
  3. (tr) to mark with straight parallel lines or make one straight line, as with a rulerto rule a margin
  4. (tr) to restrain or controlto rule one’s temper
  5. (intr) to be customary or prevalentchaos rules in this school
  6. (intr) to be pre-eminent or superiorfootball rules in the field of sport
  7. (tr) astrology (of a planet) to have a strong affinity with certain human attributes, activities, etc, associated with (one or sometimes two signs of the zodiac)Mars rules Aries
  8. rule the roost or rule the roast to be pre-eminent; be in charge

c.1200, “principle or maxim governing conduct, formula to which conduct must be conformed” from Old French riule, Norman reule “rule, custom, (religious) order” (in Modern French partially re-Latinized as règle), from Vulgar Latin *regula, from Latin regula “straight stick, bar, ruler;” figuratively “a pattern, a model,” related to regere “to rule, straighten, guide” (see regal). Replaced Old English wealdan.

Meaning “regulation governing play of a game, etc.” is from 1690s. Phrase rule of thumb first attested 1690s. Rule of law “supremacy of impartial and well-defined laws to any individual’s power” is from 1883. Meaning “strip used for making straight lines or measuring” is recorded from mid-14c. Typography sense is attested from 1680s.


c.1200, “to control, guide, direct,” from Old French riuler “impose rule,” from Latin regulare (see regulate). Legal sense “establish by decision” is recorded from early 15c. Meaning “mark with lines” is from 1590s. Meaning “to dominate, prevail” is from 1874. “Rule Brittania,” patriotic song, is from 1740. Related: Ruled; ruling.


  1. A usual, customary, or generalized course of action or behavior.
  2. A generalized statement that describes what is true in most or all cases; a standard.

In addition to the idioms beginning with rule

  • rule of thumb
  • rule out
  • rule the roost

also see:

  • as a rule
  • exception proves the rule
  • ground rules

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