What's the word or idiom or expression for when someone does an activity or job according to regulations of the institute or situation.

Example: He won the match {abiding by or according to the rules}

Thanks in advance


11 Answers 11


Fair and square: honestly and according to the rules.

Example: She won the election fair and square.

Cambridge English dictionary

Or you could also say by the book.

By the book: exactly according to rules or the law

Example: The lawyers want to make sure we've done everything strictly by the book.

Cambridge English dictionary

And single word would be legitimately.

Legitimately: In a way that conforms to the law or to rules.

Example: A legitimately elected government


  • 30
    I think "by the book" is by far the best idiomatic phrase for this. May 13, 2020 at 18:20
  • 11
    "Fair and square" is applicable primarily when the question is one of sportsmanship or propriety. "By the book" is a (mostly positive) indication of closely following established procedure or rules. May 13, 2020 at 21:44
  • 6
    @Mark I disagree that it's a negative connotation. Being creative and imaginative has its place in some fields, but most people would be happy to know that their nuclear power plants, air traffic control, etc were being done "by the book."
    – barbecue
    May 13, 2020 at 21:58
  • 2
    No results found for "he won the match by the book". But there's 1890 hits for "he won the match fair and square". Also, (US) by the numbers.
    – Mazura
    May 13, 2020 at 22:59
  • 2
    Can't upvote @chrylis-onstrike- enough -- even though OP's example has to do with sportsmanship and therefore "fair and square" makes sense in that particular case, it doesn't work in the broader context of the rest of OP's question: "when someone does an activity or job according to regulations of the institute or situation."
    – A C
    May 14, 2020 at 2:06

How about on the up-and-up?

From M-W:

up-and-up: an honest or respectable course -- used in the phrase on the up-and-up

From The Free Dictionary:

on the up-and-up: legitimate; open and aboveboard. Is this deal on the up-and-up? What's the catch? Everything I do is on the up-and-up. I am totally honest.

Your example:

He won the match on the up-and-up.

  • This is the best fit for the specific example in the question.
    – barbecue
    May 13, 2020 at 22:03
  • 1
    The Free Dictionary marks that as ‘Primarily heard in US’. It's not used in the UK, and would be likely to be misunderstood. (At least, I only discovered its meaning a few years ago, and realised that for many years I'd been misunderstanding its use in a US TV series.)
    – gidds
    May 14, 2020 at 10:52
  • 1
    I, an American, have never heard of this, and honestly if I did I would assume it's of UK origin. May 14, 2020 at 16:43
  • 1
    The phrase is used in the UK but the meaning is completely different and irrelevant to the OP's question. It means something or some idea is gaining popularity, or "trending" to use the social media buzzword.
    – alephzero
    May 14, 2020 at 17:23

That person is acting according to the letter of the law

The precise wording rather than the spirit or intent. For example, Since it was the first time he'd broken the rules, the school decided to ignore the letter of the law and just give him a warning. [Late 1500s]



Jobsworth (noun) informal disapproving UK:

someone who always obeys all the rules of their job even when they cause problems for other people or when the rules are silly

Jeremy Taylor - Jobsworth


He won the match / played according to Hoyle. ...

According to Hoyle: In accord with the highest authority; in accord with a strict set of rules.

[The Phrase Finder]

  • This isn't a country where things are cut and dried, and done according to Hoyle. [1902, Gilbert Parker in 'Donovan Pasha and Some People of Egypt']
  • The opening round of the Presidents' Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament went according to Hoyle. [2007, Phil Axelrod, "District Spotlight: PAC men's basketball follows form," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

[both quotes given in the Wiktionary entry]

  • I thought everyone played according to Hoyle. [Kid Curry]

[Alias Smith and Jones -- The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men – by Sandra K. Sagala, JoAnne M. Bagwell 2015]

  • 4
    That's an interesting phrase (and origin), and a good match for the required meaning. But I suspect it might not be too widely understood today.
    – gidds
    May 14, 2020 at 10:49

Such a person might be called a stickler for the rules. The linked entry has it as:

a person who thinks that a particular type of behaviour is very important, and always follows it...


If someone adheres to the regulations strictly in order to purposefully harm the regulator, then the phrase is malicious compliance:

Malicious compliance (also known as malicious obedience) is the behaviour of intentionally inflicting harm by strictly following the orders of a superior while knowing that compliance with the orders will not have the intended result. The term usually implies the following of an order in such a way that ignores the order's intent but follows it to the letter. It is a form of passive-aggressive behavior.

  • 3
    Good illustration of the negative side of compliance. A somewhat similar term is rules lawyering, often used in board game communities, where a player adheres to the minutiae of the written rules, possibly ignoring the spirit of the rule, possibly to give themselves an advantage. Not exactly the same, though, since a malicious complier usually does so to irk the rule-maker, while a rules lawyer may do so to benefit themselves or irk other players. But they both represent a danger of over-adherence to the rules. May 13, 2020 at 19:24

Within the framework: while considering the rules.

Ex: We played within the framework of this game!

  • This answer needs a link to a definition. See the other answers for examples on how this is done.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 18, 2020 at 16:44


As in within compliance standards.


  • 1
    This would be improved by including a dictionary link for your selected word and definition. May 14, 2020 at 18:55

"He won honestly." The opposite is "cheater" as discussed in GolfDigest website

"Most golfers say they are honest; in 10 of our 15 situations, the majority say they never bend the rule in question."

NYTimes tells of Bobby Jones' calling a penalty on himself. When asked why, he said: "Well, you might as well have praised a man for not robbing a bank."

I don't see this level of honesty in any other sport. Honesty in most other sports is dictated by referees (although it took a while to catch Lance Armstrong).

The word "gracious" could never be applied to the play of that line-call disputer John McEnroe. New technology must be credited for today's improved behavior, not nicer players.


Here are some befitting idioms.

exactly according to rules or the law

openly and legitimately

honestly and according to the rules

With that, here are some relevant words.

the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion

a person who thinks that a particular quality or type of behaviour is very important and expects other people to think and behave in the same way