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This question is prompted by reading this answer to a question about using the Polearm Master feat's bonus action after a Shove and halberd Attack

In the section "Making an Attack" (PHB, page 194):

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.

Shoving does not require an attack role but rather a contested Athletics check.

Under "Shoving a Creature" (PHB, 195)

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. [...] You make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics)check (the target chooses the ability to use).

The text specifically says Shove is a "special melee attack"
Is this a case of "specific beats general" where the specific wording of Shove makes it an attack even though the general definition of an attack is different? Alternatively is the wording of shove just using common language or is it intended to mean something different?

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Shove is an attack

There's no general rule saying that all attacks must use an attack roll

This trips up a lot of people (and for good reason) but the statement you quote from the PHB does not define attack as anything that involves an attack roll.

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack. (PHB 194)

Reading it carefully, this rule says that if you are making an attack roll then you are making an attack, but it does not say that if you aren't making an attack roll you aren't making an attack. To use a hopefully clearer real-world example of this logic: the statement "if you're under water you're wet" does not mean that it is true that "if you're not under water you're not wet."1 In fact, it says nothing at all about your moisture status if you aren't under water.

To put it another way in game terms, all things that involve attack rolls are attacks, but this statement says nothing about cases where you aren't making an attack roll.

So how can one tell if something that isn't using an attack roll is an attack or not? Well, the first thing to do is check to see if the wording calls it an attack or not.

Shove is an attack because it says it is an attack

The rules for shoving say:

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them. (PHB 195)

Twice in this rule it calls a shove an attack. This simply means that the rules are telling you that this is an attack. And it doesn't even contradict any general rules (as shown above), though it does make it a bit of an oddball. But being an oddball is no reason to doubt the rules when it tells clearly that this is an attack.2


1 Credit to @Medix for the suggestion in a comment under another answer.

2 And if you needed even more assurance (and you give any credence to designer interpretations), Jeremy Crawford has also made an unofficial ruling to the same effect here:

An attack involves an attack roll or doing something that the rules call an attack, like grappling or shoving.

And here (for the near-identical case of the grapple):

The grapple option in the Player's Handbook is an attack, but it uses an ability check in place of an attack roll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ in theory with multiattack, a fighter could knock a monster prone (granting advantage to the party), and then grapple them, preventing them from getting up (movement speed is 0)? \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi May 29 at 22:16
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Yes, shove is an attack.

Under "Shoving a Creature" (PHB, 195, bold added)

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

Furthermore, Jeremy Crawford has stated "Is something an attack? Yes, if... the rules expressly call it an attack."

So, because shoving is referred to explicitly as an attack multiple times, we can safely say this is a case of specific beating general.

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Yes, because it says it's an attack.

This statement:

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.

gets abused a lot. Pay close attention: the "simple rule" does not provide any way to determine whether something is not an attack. It's a conditional: IF you're making an attack roll THEN it's an attack. If you're not making an attack roll then it implies nothing.

Shoving doesn't require an attack roll, but it outright says it's an attack, so it is. This is not "specific beats general" because there is no general rule that applies.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps an example of the logic would help. "If you're underwater, you are wet" -/-> "If you're above water, you are dry" (it can rain) \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 28 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep. In essence, the statement "If X, then Y" being true doesn't make the inverse ("If not X, then not Y") true. It just means that "If not Y, then not X" is true (i.e. If you're not making an attack, you're not making an attack roll). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 28 at 20:34
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Yes, Shove is an attack. Specific beats general.

Player's Handbook page 195 states that:

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you.

This clarifies the action as an attack.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Whizshade, welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. We are looking for well supported answers that explain why they are correct. You can improve your post via an edit to add support. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 28 at 9:31

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