I came across the following paragraph from the book Maurice by E.M. Forster

The boy laughed. He did not understand Mr Ducie, but knew that he was meaning to be funny. He felt at ease because it was his last day at school, and even if he did wrong he would not get into a row. Besides, Mr Abrahams had declared him a success.

According to Dictionary.com, "row" means "a noisy quarrel or dispute" or "a reprimand". Which one would better fit the context?

  • It should be noted that "row" also means "line", and, since the sentence is a bit convoluted, one should consider that Forster might be talking about "staying in line" -- behaving in the "approved" manner. But that meaning does not seem to fit the context as well as "quarrel".
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 30, 2017 at 12:05
  • Look up "get into a quarrel" and "get into a reprimand" on Google or in Ngrams. Jul 30, 2017 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


It is an old-fashioned or regional British phrase meaning to receive a reprimand, as indicated by the context. The Oxford Dictionary on-line gives:

1.2 A severe reprimand.

‘I always got a row if I left food on my plate’

although this lacks the “into” in the example quoted.

From personal experience, I never heard the expression in the city in the North of England where I grew up, but it is common in Scotland, where I live now.

  • This is certainly dated: I recognise it from school stories from the early 20th century.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 30, 2017 at 17:33
  • @ColinFine — I hate to say it, but Scotland is a bit like that. When I first came here I encountered words that I thought were particularly Scottish, but later met them in English Victorian literature. (Although there are many words that are genuinely from various Scottish dialects.)
    – David
    Jul 30, 2017 at 17:37

"a noisy quarrel or dispute" is the more fitting choice. When one gets into a row, one is getting into a quarrel/fight. A note, as an American: this strikes me as a distinctly British phrase and would strike most Americans as bizarre. (It may be used in other locales as well, but I only know it from British media.) A well-read American may recognize it, though they'd expect it to be pronounced as in row-row-row your boat, but most Americans would not recognize it at all.

  • RP may be non-American, but it doesn't *mean * 'non-American'. My accent isn't American, but not is it RP, the same could be said for the vast majority of 'not American' English speakers. The use of 'row' to mean quarrel is not limited to RP speakers. 'British-English' may be a better way to define it.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 30, 2017 at 10:41
  • Please provide an alternative phrase you feel would be more inclusive or edit my reply.
    – Patrick Keenan
    Jul 30, 2017 at 10:43
  • Perhaps just link to the RP wiki, note UK and skip non-American altogether.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 30, 2017 at 11:42
  • Edited to remove RP altogether.
    – Patrick Keenan
    Jul 30, 2017 at 11:51

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