As far as I know, when a soccer player commits a foul, the referee penalizes him / her. But when I google the self-made sentence: "The referee penalized that player" I get only 5 results. I guess there is another verb for this purpose. What is the common verb which a native speaker would use instead of the bold verb below:

The referee penalized that player and gave him a yellow card.

He fouled and was / got penalized.

  • 1
    The player got yellow carded. The referee yellow-carded him. Jan 23, 2017 at 10:23
  • 2
    The phrase "that player" is unlikely in sports commentary. Also, you're far more likely to find a passive construction, the player was penalized, which is very common across a variety of sports, than a construction in the active voice: The referee penalized the player.
    – TimR
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


The language used in sports reports can be quite specialised. As a UK resident who visits the US quite frequently I am amused by the different idioms used by UK and US media to report on football/soccer matches. I'm answering this question from a UK perspective. You may find it helpful to read online match reports to see how the games are reported; the BBC website is an example of a pretty standard UK site.

In every-day speech, and in match reports the focus seems to be on the award of a free kick or penalty to the team against whom the foul was commited.

A few minutes later, Morgan was flummoxed by the pace of Shane Long, who was hauled down in the area. Referee Michael Oliver rightly pointed to the spot.

You see there that we don't need to say that Morgan (or his team) were penalised, just that the referee awarded a penalty to the opponents.

You will see phrases such as

The referee blew for a foul.


Jone mistimed his tackle and the referee gave City a free kick on the edge of the area

One specific example of penalising a player occurs when the referee gives the player a yellow card. We then use the verb book, as in the past the referee would write the player's name in his notebook (these days they seem to write the name on the yellow card they brandish.)

So we see

Mark Clattenburg booked him for dissent in the 76th minute.


As a North American speaker, I would say the more common way of saying this is that a player can 'get a penalty' rather than 'get penalized'. I suspect the explanation is first that to 'get penalized' is less specific than to 'get a penalty', since you could theoretically 'get penalized' with things other than a 'penalty', like if a goal was refused; and second, your example has 'the referee' as a subject and phrases the sentence in the active voice, with the referee as the agent. Since it's obvious that it's the referee giving a penalty, I would say this is an atypical construction, unless for some reason the referee is important in the story. Usually it's the penalized player that's important, so you would say "[player-name] got a penalty" or "was penalized".

Of course if it's specifically soccer/football you are concerned with, indeed it's likely to be phrased as "[player-name] got a foul/yellow card/red card". In ice hockey for example, it would be "[player-name] got a penalty" or to be more specific, "got a 2 minute penalty" if it's the more typical minor penalty.

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