Ping Pong vs. Table Tennis: Are They the Same Thing?

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When it comes to ping pong or table tennis, most people have pretty much concluded that they are the same thing. Ping pong means table tennis and table tennis is just another way to say ping pong. And, for the most part, that is correct.

For all intents and purposes, especially in everyday conversation, saying either of the two terms will likely mean the same thing to whoever you’re talking to.

But let’s take a quick look into the history of the two to see why there are two names. Might the two not be the exact same thing after all?

Ping Pong vs. Table Tennis

Are Ping Pong and Table Tennis the Same Thing?

Originating in Victorian-era England, ping pong began as a parlor game played by the upper class of the British population.

In the early twentieth century, John Jacques registered the name “Ping Pong” to promote the sale of his company’s high-end equipment to play the game. While his company had rights to the name Ping Pong, other companies and people continued to play the game and refer to it as table tennis — and to this day both are essentially the same game.

In other words, Ping Pong is to table tennis what Kleenex is to tissues and Xerox to a copy machine.

Ping Pong vs. Table Tennis: What Are Their Similarities?

With that brief foray into the history of the game, it’s time to dive into some of the similarities and differences between the two.

General Objectives

No matter if you’re playing ping pong or table tennis, you will generally be trying to do the same thing. You will be trying to score a point while preventing your opponent from scoring.

To score a point in either game, you want to use your paddle to hit the ball over the central net so that it hits your opponent’s side of the table and they are unable to return the ball to you.  To prevent your opponent from scoring, you need to return the ball over to their side of the table without it either hitting out of bounds or hitting your side of the table again on its way back over the net.

Scoring Methods

Coinciding with the similar objective of the game is the manner in which points are divided up to players. The only way to score a point in either game is to hit your opponent’s side of the table leaving them unable to return the ball to you. Each time that happens, you get one point.

In both games, there are no bonus points, no points for a defensive play, or anything else.

The scoring is very straightforward.

Table Size

Ping pong tables and table tennis tables are the same things. They can be used interchangeably and the players would not tell a difference.

The tables are typically made of plastic, metal, particle-board, or concrete and generally measure 9-feet by 5-feet with a net halfway down. That said, there are smaller tables designed to fit smaller spaces.

Ping Pong vs. Table Tennis: What Are Their Differences?

With the similarities out of the way, let’s look at the differences between the two.

Perception and Competitiveness

One of the major differences between those who play ping pong and those who play table tennis is the level of competition and the general seriousness among the participants. This isn’t to say that people from both camps don’t take it seriously and don’t try to win, but it’s widely understood among players which one is taken more seriously: table tennis.

As time has gone on since the game was developed over a century ago, table tennis has commonly been accepted as the more serious version of the game whereas ping pong has largely become the looser version that is played more for fun.

This can be seen in everyday life when at a get-together or a barbecue, you might hear someone ask if you want to play ping pong. Typically referring to the game like table tennis is left to those who take it as a sport rather than a game.

This point is further exacerbated by the fact that table tennis is an official sport recognized in the Olympics (not ping pong), hinting at the competitive nature of the game.

Table Tennis

Points Needed to Win

Usually, in a friendly game of ping pong, you play until the winner reaches 21 points (sometimes 15). This will often differ depending on where you’re playing and who you’re playing against since it is the looser version of the game.

On the other hand, each table tennis set is played until one player reaches 11 points. This leads to table tennis being a bit more competitive since each point means that much more since fewer of them are required to win.

Consecutive Serves

This is another aspect of table tennis that most people would probably assume is the same as ping pong but the number of serves each player gets in a row is very different.

When playing ping pong, the person serving will typically serve the ball five times in a row before handing it off for their opponent to serve. In table tennis, the players alternate serving the ball after just two serves.

This is due in large part to the much shorter games as mentioned previously.


Next time you’re asked to play ping pong or table tennis, rest assured knowing that in most cases, you are being asked to play basically the same game.

People won’t be coming up to you and asking you to play a competitive game of table tennis at a block party or friendly get-together. And for all intents and purposes, the two games are pretty much the same thing.

So get out there and have some fun!