Grammar for Legal Writing

Grammar for Legal Writing

Legal writing requires the precise and clear articulation of legal concepts, rules, and arguments in both written and spoken forms. Having a firm grasp of legal English grammar is essential for the success of law students and legal professionals. You will find the following topics useful for effective communication of your ideas. For more in-depth explanations, check out our Legal English and Writing Guide.

Absolute Construction
In legal English, absolute constructions are used to provide additional information about a subject or a situation. They consist of a noun or pronoun followed by a participle or participial phrase.

Example
All parties having signed the agreement, it is now legally binding.

In this example, the absolute construction is "All parties having signed the agreement." It provides additional information about the agreement and sets the context for the main clause, which states that the agreement is legally binding. The absolute construction consists of a noun phrase ("All parties") followed by a present participle phrase ("having signed the agreement"). The present participle phrase functions as an adverbial phrase modifying the main clause. In terms of grammar, the present participle "having signed" indicates that the signing of the agreement has been completed by all parties. The phrase "All parties" acts as the subject of the absolute construction, and the verb phrase "having signed the agreement" describes the action performed by the parties.

Absolute constructions are commonly used in legal English to convey simultaneous or related actions, conditions, or events. They provide contextual information and establish the cause or circumstance that leads to the main clause. In this example, the absolute construction clarifies that the binding nature of the agreement is a result of all parties having signed it.

Comparisons
Comparisons are frequently used in legal language to illustrate similarities or differences between parties, actions, or situations. They often employ comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs.

Wrong
The punishment for first-degree murder is as severe or more severe than manslaughter.

In this example, there is a comparison error. The use of "as severe or more severe" creates redundancy and is grammatically incorrect. The correct comparative structure should be used to convey the intended meaning accurately.

Correct
The punishment for first-degree murder is as severe as or more severe than manslaughter.

In the corrected example, the comparative structure is revised to "as severe as or more severe than." This structure correctly compares the severity of the punishment for first-degree murder and manslaughter. It acknowledges the possibility that the punishment for first-degree murder can be equal to or greater in severity than manslaughter.

Comparisons are commonly used in legal language to establish distinctions, highlight variations, or evaluate the relative importance or impact of different legal aspects. They contribute to the precision and clarity of legal writing by providing a basis for understanding the degree or extent of a particular characteristic or circumstance.

Dangling Modifiers
Dangling modifiers occur when a modifier in a sentence does not clearly refer to the intended subject. This can lead to confusion or unintended meanings.

Wrong
Having reviewed the case thoroughly, the court's decision was rendered.

In this example, there is a dangling modifier: "Having reviewed the case thoroughly." The intended subject of the modifier is missing, resulting in a grammatical error. The sentence suggests that the court's decision reviewed the case, which is illogical. The modifier should have a subject that aligns with the main clause.

Correct
Having reviewed the case thoroughly, the judge rendered the court's decision.

To correct the sentence and clarify the intended meaning, you need to state the subject explicitly. In this revised sentence, it is clear that the judge reviewed the case thoroughly, and as a result, the court's decision was rendered. The subject of the introductory phrase ("the judge") is now properly connected to the main clause, addressing the dangling modifier.

A dangling modifier occurs when the subject of a modifying phrase or clause is missing or does not match the subject of the main clause, leading to confusion or ambiguity. In legal writing, it is crucial to ensure that modifiers are correctly attached to the intended subject to convey accurate meaning and avoid misinterpretation.

Fragments
Fragments are incomplete sentences that lack a subject or verb or fail to express a complete thought. In legal writing, it is crucial to use complete sentences to ensure clarity and precision.

Wrong
On the grounds of insufficient evidence and lack of credibility.

In this example, there is a fragment: "On the grounds of insufficient evidence and lack of credibility." It is a prepositional phrase without a subject and verb, making it an incomplete sentence.

Correct
The case was dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence and lack of credibility.

To correct the sentence, you need to provide a subject and a verb. In this revised sentence, the fragment is connected to the main clause, forming a complete sentence. The subject ("the case") and verb ("was dismissed") are present, allowing for a grammatically correct sentence.

A fragment is an incomplete sentence that does not express a complete thought. In legal writing, it is crucial to ensure that sentences are properly constructed to convey precise meaning and clarity. Fragments can often be corrected by incorporating them into complete sentences or by revising them to form standalone sentences with a subject and verb.

Inversion
Inversion involves reversing the usual word order in a sentence for emphasis or to create a specific effect. It is commonly used in legal language for rhetorical or stylistic purposes.

Example
Only after careful consideration of the evidence did the jury reach a verdict.

In this example, there is inversion: "Only after careful consideration of the evidence did the jury reach a verdict." It involves reversing the typical subject-verb order in the sentence. Inversion is commonly used in legal English for emphasis or to create a more formal or dramatic effect. It is often employed with negative adverbs or adverbial phrases like "only," "never," "rarely," or "not until," as seen in this example. The typical word order in a declarative sentence would be: "The jury reached a verdict only after careful consideration of the evidence." However, through inversion, the subject "the jury" and the auxiliary verb "did" are inverted, placing the verb before the subject. In this example, inversion is employed to draw attention to the adverbial phrase "only after careful consideration of the evidence" and highlight the significance of the jury's deliberation process before reaching a verdict.

In legal writing, inversion can be used to add emphasis, create a more formal tone, or establish a specific syntactic pattern. It is important to note that inversion should be used judiciously and in line with the conventions of legal language.

Misplaced Modifiers
Misplaced modifiers occur when a modifier is incorrectly placed in a sentence, leading to confusion or unintended meanings.

Wrong
After the accident, the lawyer filed a lawsuit on behalf of the injured client seeking compensation.

In this example, there is a misplaced modifier: "After the accident." It is intended to modify the action of the lawyer filing a lawsuit, but it is incorrectly positioned at the beginning of the sentence.

Correct
The lawyer filed a lawsuit on behalf of the injured client seeking compensation after the accident.

To correct the sentence, you need to place the modifier in its proper position. In this revised sentence, the modifier "after the accident" is correctly placed next to the action it modifies, which is the timing of the lawyer filing the lawsuit.

A misplaced modifier occurs when a word or phrase is not positioned correctly in relation to the word or phrase it is intended to modify. This can lead to confusion or ambiguity in meaning. In legal writing, it is essential to ensure that modifiers are properly placed to convey accurate and clear information.

Mixed Conditionals
Mixed conditionals combine elements of both the present and past conditionals to express hypothetical or contrary-to-fact situations in legal writing.

Example
If the defendant had not acted negligently, the plaintiff's injuries would not be as severe.

In this example, we have another mixed conditional sentence that combines the past unreal condition with the present unreal result. The first clause, "If the defendant had not acted negligently," establishes the unreal past condition. It presents a hypothetical situation where the defendant did act negligently. The second clause, "the plaintiff's injuries would not be as severe," expresses the unreal present result. It indicates the consequence that would have occurred if the unreal past condition were true. In this case, it suggests that the plaintiff's injuries would have been less severe.

Mixed conditionals are commonly used in legal English to discuss hypothetical scenarios and their potential outcomes. They allow for the examination of how different actions or events in the past could have influenced the present or future circumstances. In this example, the mixed conditional is used to illustrate the causal relationship between the defendant's negligent actions and the severity of the plaintiff's injuries.

Parallelism
Parallelism involves maintaining consistent grammatical structures or patterns within a sentence or paragraph. In legal writing, parallelism helps to improve clarity and readability.

Wrong
The attorney argued that the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and that they should receive a fair trial.

In this example, there is a lack of parallelism in the structure of the sentence. The first two items in the series ("compensation for medical expenses" and "pain and suffering") are presented as noun phrases, but the third item ("that they should receive a fair trial") is presented as a full clause. This inconsistency disrupts the parallel structure.

Correct
The attorney argued that the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and a fair trial.

In the corrected example, parallelism is achieved by presenting all three items in the series using the same grammatical structure. Each item is presented as a noun phrase ("compensation for medical expenses," "pain and suffering," "a fair trial"). This consistent structure creates parallelism and improves the clarity and coherence of the sentence.

Parallelism in legal writing helps to maintain a consistent and balanced structure, making the sentence or paragraph more coherent and easier to understand. It ensures that items in a series are presented in a similar grammatical form, enhancing readability and conveying information effectively.

Pronoun Agreement
Pronoun agreement refers to using pronouns that agree in number, gender, and person with their antecedents.

Wrong
The attorney submitted their argument to the court.

In this example, there is a pronoun agreement issue. The pronoun "their" does not agree in number with the noun it refers to, which is "attorney." "Their" is a plural pronoun, while "attorney" is a singular noun.

Correct
The attorney submitted his or her argument to the court.

To correct the pronoun agreement, you need to make the pronoun agree with its antecedent. In this revised sentence, the pronoun "his or her" agrees in number with the singular noun "attorney." This ensures grammatical accuracy and clarity.

Pronoun agreement refers to the need for pronouns to match their antecedents in number (singular or plural) and gender. In legal writing, it is crucial to ensure that pronouns are properly matched with their corresponding nouns to avoid confusion and maintain grammatical correctness. Using singular pronouns for singular nouns and plural pronouns for plural nouns helps convey the intended meaning accurately.

It is worth noting that sometimes the pronoun "they" is used to refer to a singular antecedent, known as the singular "they", so it is grammatically possible to say, "The attorney submitted their argument to the court." Here, the pronoun "their" refers to "the attorney." However, this usage may create ambiguity because "their" can also be understood as referring to a plural noun in the paragraph. Therefore, we do not recommend using singular "they" in legal writing.

Run-on Sentences
Run-on sentences occur when two or more independent clauses are joined without appropriate punctuation or conjunctions. Legal writing requires clear and concise sentences to convey information effectively.

Wrong
The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case the plaintiff opposed the motion and provided additional evidence to support their claims.

In this example, there is a run-on sentence, where two independent clauses ("The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case" and "the plaintiff opposed the motion and provided additional evidence to support their claims") are connected without proper punctuation or coordination.

Correct
The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiff opposed the motion. The plaintiff also provided additional evidence to support their claims.

In the corrected example, the run-on sentence is corrected by separating the two independent clauses into separate sentences. The conjunction "and" is used to connect the actions, and appropriate punctuation is included to indicate the end of each sentence.

Run-on sentences occur when multiple independent clauses are joined together without proper punctuation or coordination. In legal writing, it is essential to use appropriate punctuation and conjunctions to separate and connect thoughts effectively. Correcting run-on sentences improves the clarity and readability of the text, ensuring that each idea is expressed in a clear and concise manner.

Subject-verb Agreement
Subject-verb agreement refers to matching the subject of a sentence with the appropriate verb form in terms of number and person. In legal writing, maintaining subject-verb agreement is crucial for clarity and grammatical accuracy.

Wrong
The defendant's alibi were not convincing the jury.

In this example, there is a subject-verb agreement error. The subject "the defendant's alibi" is singular, but the verb "were" is in the plural form. This inconsistency in number between the subject and the verb creates a grammatical error.

Correct
The defendant's alibi was not convincing the jury.

To correct the sentence, you need to make the verb agree with the subject. In the corrected example, the subject-verb agreement is corrected by using the singular form of the verb "was" to match the singular subject "the defendant's alibi."

Subject-verb agreement is an important grammatical rule in legal writing. It requires that the subject and verb in a sentence agree in number (singular or plural). In this example, the correction ensures that the verb form aligns with the singular subject, resulting in grammatical accuracy and clarity. Paying attention to subject-verb agreement is crucial to convey information accurately and maintain the integrity of the sentence.

Subjunctive
The subjunctive mood is used in legal language to express hypothetical, unreal, or contrary-to-fact situations. It is often employed in legal provisions, contracts, and legal opinions.

Example
It is crucial that the defendant be present in court for the hearing.

In this example, the subjunctive mood is used to express a recommendation or requirement. The verb "be" is in the base form instead of the indicative form "is" or "are." The subjunctive mood is often used in legal writing to convey a sense of obligation, necessity, or importance.

The subjunctive mood is commonly used to express hypothetical, doubtful, or contrary-to-fact situations. In legal English, it is commonly used in expressions of obligation, recommendation, or necessity. The subjunctive form of the verb is typically used with certain verbs (e.g., "demand," "recommend," "require," "insist") and in certain grammatical structures (e.g., after phrases like "it is crucial," "it is important," "it is necessary").

In the example sentence, the subjunctive mood is used to emphasise the importance of the defendant's presence in court. It conveys that the defendant's presence is required or strongly recommended. The use of the subjunctive mood helps to convey the desired tone and intention in legal writing, ensuring clear communication of obligations or recommendations.

Transition
Transitional words are useful in legal writing to establish logical connections between ideas, indicate cause and effect, and provide smooth transitions between sentences and paragraphs.

Example
Furthermore, the prosecution presented compelling evidence to support their case.

In this example, "Furthermore" is a transition word that connects the information presented in the previous sentence with new information. It indicates that the information to follow is adding on or reinforcing the point made previously.

Transitions are words or phrases that help establish connections and logical flow between ideas in sentences. In legal writing, transitions are crucial for organising and presenting information in a coherent and cohesive manner. They guide the reader through the progression of ideas and improve the readability of the text.

In the example sentence, "Furthermore" is used as a transition word to introduce additional information that supports the prosecution's case. It signals that the following sentence will present evidence or arguments that further strengthen the point being made. Transition words like "Furthermore," "Moreover," "In addition," and "Additionally" are commonly used in legal writing to enhance the clarity and coherence of the text by showing the relationship between ideas and helping readers navigate through the content.

Conjunction
Conjunctions are essential in legal writing to establish logical connections between ideas, indicate cause and effect, and provide smooth transitions between clauses.

Example
The defendant claimed self-defence, but the prosecution argued premeditation.

In this example, "but" is a conjunction that joins two contrasting ideas. It indicates a contradiction or opposition between the defendant's claim of self-defence and the prosecution's argument of premeditation.

Conjunctions are words that connect words, phrases, or clauses within a sentence. They help establish relationships between different elements of a sentence or between multiple sentences. In legal writing, conjunctions are used to create logical connections and convey the relationships between ideas or arguments.

In the example sentence, "but" is used as a coordinating conjunction to connect two contrasting statements made by the defendant and the prosecution. It highlights the opposing viewpoints and emphasises the conflict between the two positions. Other commonly used conjunctions in legal English include "and," "or," "nor," "yet," and "so." They play a crucial role in structuring legal arguments, presenting counterarguments, and demonstrating logical connections between different aspects of a case.

In conclusion, these language features and grammatical structures play a crucial role in conveying legal concepts accurately and effectively within the legal profession. It is important to make sure your writing is free from grammatical errors, uses appropriate terminology, and effectively communicates legal concepts to your intended audience.

Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.