Bringing in legislation and breaking rules: collocations connected with rules and regulations

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by Liz Walter

Many of us have had to live with unprecedented restrictions on our lives in recent months. Our freedom to travel and meet up with friends and family have been limited in ways we couldn’t have imagined possible just a few months ago. This post looks at the language of rules and regulations, and in particular their collocations (the words that associate with them).

When rules start, people in authority bring them in, introduce them or impose them:

The government has brought in rules to limit the use of plastic straws.

Most countries impose regulations on their pharmaceutical companies.

When people end rules, they remove or lift them:

Calls to remove restrictions on travel are growing.

We didn’t know when lockdown would be lifted.

When rules are made less strict, we say that they are eased or relaxed. We often use noun phrases to express this concept, for instance the gradual easing of or the slight relaxation of:

The state is planning to ease rules around how some pensions are funded.

We are hoping for the slight relaxation of these guidelines.

There are several strong adjective collocations for nouns connected to rules or regulations. Strict or stringent rules are very definite and people must obey them. If we describe rules as harsh, we mean that they are very strict and may cause difficulties for people who have to obey them:

There are strict rules surrounding overseas recruitment.

The emergency allowed the government to impose unusually harsh restrictions.

Petty rules are silly and unimportant, and unenforceable rules are ones that it is impossible to make people obey:

There were so many petty regulations at school.

Police claim these lower speed limits are unenforceable.

When we do what we have been told to do, we obey or follow rules. In more formal English, we observe, abide by or comply with them, and in informal English, we stick to them:

Camping is allowed here as long as you follow the rules.

It is important to observe all the regulations on health and safety.

The most common collocation for not obeying rules is to break the rules. When people do this in an obvious way that shows they don’t care, we say that they flout them. When people bend or stretch rules, they obey them to a certain extent but not completely:

Drivers who break the rules are issued with a penalty charge.

The college stretched the rules a bit to give her a place.

When authorities make us obey rules, we say that they enforce them or uphold them:

Regulations on air pollution were rarely enforced.

The police were there to uphold the rule of law.

I hope these collocations will be useful. I can’t resist ending with the well-known saying that ‘Rules are made to be broken’.

13 thoughts on “Bringing in legislation and breaking rules: collocations connected with rules and regulations

    1. Denis

      I find this a very good question.
      As far as I’m concerned, there’s no antonym of ‘uphold’ with the same root. For example, we obviously cannot say ‘downhold’ or something. Nevertheless, the nearest antonyms for ‘uphold’ in the context of this article are ‘disregard’, ‘ignore’, & ‘neglect’. Depending on a specific context, you can also use ‘oppose’ or ‘disapprove of’: Most people in the town, including even police officers, oppose/disapprove of these unenforceable rules.

    2. Liz Walter

      I don’t think there is an exact opposite. You could say something like ‘not enforce’ or ‘turn a blind eye’.

    1. Briki

      A student in Law will learn certainly that ‘the law is made to be broken’.It’s true.II think there is a difference between ‘to abide by rules or oberve them’ and ‘to enforce or uphold them’ ..What makes the difference is the subject(person or authority..).Thank you very much for this rich comment..

  1. Harjinder Singh

    As always been, another useful post from you. Just one question if you can please answer. You mentioned above – “We didn’t know when lockdown would be lifted.”. Shouldn’t it be like – “We don’t know when lockdown would be lifted.” Please confirm.

      1. The Rook

        Or as I usually say when dealing with laws that are contradictory, flout common sense or bring about a sense of irony:

        Well since we are “throwing the book out of the window…”

    1. Denis

      The way I see it, neither of these sentences is accurate enough.
      1. Based on the context of the sentences, especially the first one, you’re talking about a specific lockdown – the one that was/has been imposed and that you didn’t/don’t know when it would/will be lifted. Thus, I suggest you use the definite article ‘the’ before the noun ‘lockdown’.
      According to English grammar, the definite article makes a noun specific. It shows that what is referred to is already known to the speaker or writer.
      (Please note that we don’t normally use articles before ‘lockdown’ when we use it with prepositions, such as ‘in’, ‘on’ or ‘under’: The entire city has been put in/on/under lockdown.
      2. Your first sentence is about the past so ‘would’ (as the past form of will) is okay there. We use ‘would’ to talk about the future in the past. It is used when the speaker looks forward in time from a point in the past. However, when we talk about the future in the present, we normally use ‘will’. One of the main uses of ‘will’ is to refer to things in the future that we think are certain. ‘Will’ is also used to make predictions about the future. This is the case when the speaker, for example, makes a deduction because of what they know about the situation. Consequently, it is better to use ‘will’ instead of ‘would’ in your second sentence. That’s because judging by the context of the sentence, you are on lockdown which has already been imposed at present and therefore sooner or later will be lifted, depending on the situation. You just don’t know when exactly the lockdown will be lifted.
      The only case when you can use ‘would’ in that sentence is some sort of situation in which the lockdown you’re talking about has not yet been imposed, hence the reason why people do not know when it would be lifted if it was imposed.
      To sum up, I’d sooner say ‘We didn’t know when the lockdown would be lifted’ or ‘We don’t know when the lockdown will be lifted’.

      Although the saying suggests that rules are made to be broken, it is sometimes worth remembering that rules are rules (especially when you’re taking a Cambridge English exam). 🙂

      1. Liz Walter

        Yes, sorry Harjinder, Denis is correct about the second sentence – it should have ‘will’ in the second part. IMHO.

      2. However in a conversation, the speaker wants to try to use past experience. I like “didn’t ” and “would”. During CELTA training, my misfortune was in grammar TPT with the third condition of would, should or could. My small class of Chinese adult students sat staring in amused joy.

      3. However, the ambiguity with would is in the third condition of using should or could. During CELTA training in Beijing, my misfortune or fortune was in being selected to teach grammar in TPT to a class of adult Chinese students capable of intermediate skill. The small class stared in amused joy. I sprayed a chalkboard with colorfully coded exceptions.

  2. Rotos

    Nick loved burgers. He wanted to find a perfect burger. He tried them everywhere he went. He decided to try 10 different places one day. He did not eat the whole thing. He had a bite of each burger. He ate all types of burgers. His favorite was the cheese burger, but he did not taste any amazing burgers. Then he ate the last one. The last one was perfect. The buns were perfectly cooked. The beef was juicy. The lettuce and tomato were fresh. It even had melted cheese and a special sauce. This was the best burger he had ever had.

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