What is a Foul in Basketball?

In any contact sport, there are certain situations where a team is awarded an advantage due to an infringement made by the opposition.

For example, in soccer we have instances where teams are awarded free kicks or penalties due to isolated moments of dangerous play committed by an opponent.

Basketball is no different either.

A foul in basketball is a violation of the National Basketball Association (NBA) rules by a player, referee, or team, which results in the awarding of points to the opposing team.

Fouls can range from very minor to abusive, and can often have a significant effect on the game.

In a highly competitive and physical sport like the NBA, fouls are significantly more common.

Only the best referees in the world are allowed to officiate these games due to their superior judgment and expertise.

Read through the entirety of this article to get the full low down on basketball fouls.

What are the 5 foul types in basketball?

There are multiple categories of fouls that you need to be aware of.

We’re now going to go through each one in turn.

First up is….

1. Personal fouls

The most common type of foul is the personal foul, which is issued when a defender makes illegal contact with an offensive player.

what is a foul in basketball - personal fouls

This can include things like:

  • Tripping;
  • Pushing;
  • Arm blocking;
  • Hand-checking; and
  • Frisking.

Personal fouls also apply to any illegal contact caused by a defender that causes an offensive player to lose control of the ball.

If a personal foul is committed, the team that is fouled is awarded one free throw and possession of the ball.

2. Technical fouls

This type of foul is typically called when a player or coach behaves in an unsportsmanlike manner, such as arguing with the referee or being too vocal in trash talking or taunting another player.

what is a foul in basketball - technical foul

For this very reason, you’ll usually see NBA players covering their mouths while talking.

It’s a very clever strategy to not get caught for a technical foul!

Technical fouls can also be called for various other offenses, including illegal defense, flagrant fouls, and even taking too long to enter the game or pause for a dead ball situation.

Punishments for technical fouls vary, but typically involve the awarding of one or two free throws, followed by a re-start of the game with a jump ball.

And because this type of foul is so subjective, it’s quite commonplace to witness basketball players arguing with the match officials, as they try to contest the validity of the call made against them.

3. Offensive fouls

The third type of foul is the offensive foul.

This is issued when an offensive player commits a violation while they are in possession of the ball.

what is a foul in basketball - offensive foul

Violations that trigger an offensive foul include:

  • Illegal obstructions;
  • Charging (trying to run over a defender); and
  • Palming (grasping the ball with the palm of the hand).

An offensive foul results in a turnover, with possession being awarded to the team that was fouled.

4. Flagrant fouls

Up next, we have flagrant fouls.

These are the most serious form of fouls that may be called in a basketball game.

A flagrant foul is committed when a player engages in violent or aggressive behavior that could cause injury to another player.

what is a foul in basketball - flagrant foul

Flagrant fouls result in the player being expelled from the game and the team that was fouled receiving a penalty of two free throws plus possession of the ball.

Flagrant fouls are classified into two types:

  • Flagrant foul—penalty (1); and
  • Flagrant foul—penalty (2).

Flagrant 1 fouls are those that involve needless contact.

This type of foul results in a free throw for the opponent and possession of the ball.

Any infraction involving unnecessary and excessive contact is classified as flagrant 2.

Have a look at the following video compilation which shows how these are committed on the court:

5. Shooting fouls

Finally, we have shooting fouls.

Whenever you see a player pulling off a shot and coming into contact with their opponent right in the middle of that action, they are typically awarded free throw opportunities afterwards.

what is a foul in basketball - shooting foul

If the player fouled was attempting a three-point shot, then they get to take a total of three uncontested free throws.

Similarly, if a two-point shot was being made and a foul occurred in the process, then two free throw attempts would be awarded.

And lastly, if the shot was made by the player after the foul had been called by the referee, then the shooter would only be given one extra free throw chance.

What is the difference between rule violations and fouls?

According to Masterclass, every foul violates a rule, but not every rule violation counts as a foul.

Illegal plays such as traveling, shot clock violations, lane violations, three-second violations, shot clock violations, or a double dribble simply result in a change of possession.

Are there foul limits in basketball?

In basketball, players are allowed to commit a certain number of fouls before they are disqualified from the game.

This foul limit is known as “foul trouble” and it can have a significant impact on a team’s strategy.

Foul limits for players

The NBA allots players six personal fouls per game.

What happens is that they are automatically disqualified from competition upon incurring their sixth foul, and a referee will eject them from the game.

At lower competitive levels of basketball, such as NCAA college basketball and local high school leagues, the foul limit for players is set to a total of five fouls per game.

Here, players are automatically disqualified from the competition after incurring their fifth foul.

Foul limits for teams

In addition to individual foul limits, there is also a team foul limit.

According to one of the NBA foul regulations, each team is limited to four team fouls every quarter before entering the bonus.

This means that if a team commits their fifth foul, the other team receives free throws. The free throws will be taken by the player who was fouled.

It’s important to keep in mind that team fouls reset to zero when entering a new quarter and overtime.

Only personal fouls committed by players will be carried out until the next quarter.

Additionally, the bonus rule applies differently when there are two minutes remaining in a quarter.

Once a team reaches their second foul in the final two minutes, the opposing team gets awarded a bonus free throw regardless of how many team fouls were committed during the quarter.

In overtime, the bonus rule applies once a team goes over three fouls.

What are the different ways in which a player can commit a basketball foul?

There are a number of different actions that players make on the court which lead to fouls being awarded.

Some of these are:

  • Holding: when a player uses their hands to hold, grab, or pull an opposing player with or without the ball.
  • Reaching-in: when a player uses their hands to hack, slap, or smack an offensive player in an attempt to steal the ball.
  • Hand checking: When a player uses their hands to impede or prevent the offensive player from advancing on the perimeter. Unless the offensive player is in the area near the basket with his back to the basket, hand checking is not allowed.
  • Blocking: When a defensive player is not properly positioned and makes contact with an offensive player to stop their movement.
  • Charging: An offensive player barges into a defensive player who already has an established position outside the restricted area. No charges can be called when the defensive player is inside the restricted area, whether they are in a proper position or not.


Overall, fouls are an important part of the game of basketball, and can often have a decisive effect on the outcome of a game.

Knowing the different types of fouls and the consequences of each is essential for any player, coach or referee to have complete mastery of the sport.

By following the rules and avoiding fouls, players can help ensure that games are fair and enjoyable for everyone.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, then you should also check out similar posts on the rules of the game, particularly pertaining to:

You’ll definitely increase your familiarity with some of the sport’s most common concepts.

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.