Multiple Meanings of “Award”

Legal Terms with Multiple Meanings
One of the major difficulties of learning legal language is that so many terms have one meaning in everyday usage, but may mean something radically different in legal contexts. And sometimes the same word may have several different legal meanings, depending on the practice area in which it is used. Linguists may describe such terms as “polysemous,” and they are certainly present in abundance in both legal Spanish and legal English. Under “Multiple Meanings” I offer a sampling of expressions that I believe are likely to give rise to miscues in legal translation. Logically, the focus is on usage in legal contexts, and their nonlegal meanings have generally been excluded.

award; to award

In nonlegal contexts “award” is often a synonym for “prize,” as in “The Academy Awards” (los Óscar). “Award” has similar connotations in legal contexts as both a noun and a verb, but how the term is best translated may vary in different areas of law. In the context of arbitration, the decision of an arbitrator is known as an “arbitral (or) arbitration award,” which in Spanish is laudo arbitral. “To award a contract” is adjudicar un contrato, and “to award custody” (of children in a divorce proceeding, for example) is atribuir la guarda y custodia.

In civil procedure “award” may describe a judge’s decision granting a plaintiff compensation for damages (“award of damages”) or an order that the losing party bear the successful party’s costs (“award of costs”). It should be noted that in Spanish this is generally expressed from the perspective of the losing party who is ordered to pay damages (condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios) or ordered to pay costs (condenado en costas). Thus “plaintiff was awarded damages” would be expressed in Spanish as el demandado fue condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios (literally, “defendant was ordered to pay damages”). Likewise, “plaintiff was awarded costs” would be rendered in Spanish as el demandado fue condenado en costas (literally, “defendant was ordered to pay costs”). In that regard “award of costs” is most often expressed as imposición de costas or condena en costas, denoting a judge’s order assessing costs against the losing party.

False Friends: secreto ; secret

Oh, no! False Friends
When learning legal terminology in a bilingual context one of the first pitfalls encountered are so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates, but are actually unrelated in meaning. Many years ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation.” As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have well over that number and will be sharing some of them in this blog. To be fair, many are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.

secreto; secret

Secreto and “secret” are cognates when referring, for example, to secretos industriales (“trade secrets”). But in many legal contexts the terms may be considered “false friends.” The expression derecho al secreto de las comunicaciones refers to the constitutional “right of privacy” with regard to information exchanged by phone, through the mail or electronically. And in the context of court procedure, secreto is perhaps best translated as “privileged.” In that sense secreto profesional is not “professional secrecy,” as the expression has sometimes been rendered, but rather denotes the confidentiality required in certain privileged relationships. Common examples include secreto profesional del abogado or secreto profesional entre abogado y defendido (“lawyer-client privilege;” “attorney-client privilege”); secreto profesional médico (“doctor-patient privilege;” “physician-patient privilege”) and secreto profesional periodístico (or) de los periodistas (“journalist’s privilege;” “reporter’s privilege” or “newsman’s privilege”). The reference to testigos con deber de guardar secreto denotes “witnesses with testimonial privilege.” Indeed, in certain cases a husband or wife may decline to testify against a spouse, claiming “marital privilege” or “marital communications privilege” and, in general, spouses share a “privilege of confidential marital communications.” And secreto de confesión denotes “priest-penitent privilege” or “clergyman-penitent privilege.” Thus, in general, obligación de guardar secreto is not an “obligation to keep secrets,” but the “obligation to maintain confidentiality,” and documentos secretos are simply “confidential (or) classified documents.”

In criminal procedure, secreto del sumario (or secreto sumarial) refers to the “confidentiality of criminal investigations” and to the fact such proceedings are generally made known only to persons involved in the inquiry. In a more restrictive sense, a judge may initially declare a criminal inquiry confidential (declarar el secreto del sumario), prohibiting suspects and witnesses from publicly revealing details of the investigation. When the investigation is subsequently opened to other parties, this is known as levantamiento del secreto del sumario. And in other respects, the criminal offense of violación de secretos denotes “unlawful access to privileged (or) confidential information.”



Varieties of Legal English in the UK

uk parliament-2

My students of Legal English often ask me why I label certain British legal terms as “UK” and others as “E&W” (England and Wales). It is important to note that the legal terminology of England and Wales often differs from the terminology of the rest of the UK, especially Scotland, but also sometimes Northern Ireland. England and Wales share the same law, modern Scots law is often described as “hybrid” (having its roots in civil law), and Northern Ireland likewise has its own legal system.

Moreover, the laws enacted by the UK Parliament in London are not necessarily applicable throughout the whole United Kingdom. When accessing UK legislation (, one of the “Advanced Features” available under the “Content” tab  says “show geographical extent.” If we check “show geographical extent” for the Companies Act 2006, a small purple banner appears with the message “E+W+S+N.I.,” indicating that this piece of legislation is applicable throughout the UK. If we do the same for the Civil Procedure Act 1997, the little purple banner says “E+W,” since that law is only applicable in England and Wales.

As examples of just how different English and Scottish legal terms can be, in civil procedure the English “claimant” (demandante—“plaintiff” in the US) is the “pursuer” in Scotland, while the defendant (demandado) is the “defender.” Criminal cases that are prosecuted in England and Wales by a “Crown Prosecutor” (fiscal) are prosecuted in Scotland by a “Procurator Fiscal.” And the English crimes of “manslaughter” (homicidio involuntario), “burglary” (robo con fuerza en las cosas) and “arson” (incendio provocado) are known respectively as “culpable homicide,” “house-breaking” and “fire-raising” north of the Anglo-Scottish border.

Terminology of Spanish Business Vehicles

group hand fist bump

There is often much confusion in the translation of the five principal types of Spanish “business vehicles” (formas jurídicas de la empresa). The simplest form of business entity in which a person goes into business for himself is the empresa individual, tantamount to the “sole proprietorship” in the United States. The owner is known as an empresario (or) comerciante individual, called “sole proprietor” in the US and “sole trader” in  the UK.

A second type of business entity includes three forms of sociedades personalistas (a generic term for “partnerships”), including the sociedad colectiva or S.C. (also called sociedad regular colectiva, or S.R.C.), which is a “general partnership;” the sociedad comanditaria (simple), or S. Com. (also known as a sociedad en comandita or S. en Com.), which is a “limited partnership;” and the sociedad comanditaria por acciones, or S. Com. p. A., a hybrid “partnership limited by shares” that has some of the features of a sociedad anónima. In sociedades colectivas (“general partnerships”) all partners (called socios colectivos) are “general partners,” sharing management duties and having unlimited joint and several liability, unless the partnership agreement provides otherwise. In addition to the general partners, sociedades comanditarias likewise have socios comanditarios (“limited partners”) whose libility is limited to the amount of their contributions to the partnership, but who have no management rights. Sociedades comanditarias por acciones have at least one general partner (socio colectivo) in addition to the other socios who may be called accionistas (“shareholders”), given that partner interests in this type of entity are divided into shares (acciones).

The sociedad de responsabilidad limitada or S.R.L. (also termed simply sociedad limitada, or S.L.) is Spain’s “limited liability company,” while the sociedad anónima, or S.A. is a “corporation.” (In British English they may perhaps be described respectively as a “private limited company” and a “public limited company.”) The three principal differences between a sociedad limitada and sociedad anónima may be summarized as follows (there are quite a few more):

Sociedad Limitada (S.L.)

Sociedad Anónima (S.A.)

owner interests are known as participaciones, and cannot by law be called acciones (shares) nor can they be publicly traded owner interests are called acciones (shares) and may (or may not be) publicly traded
minimum capital is €3,000 that must be fully subscribed and paid up when the company is formed minimum capital is €60,000 that must be fully subscribed and 25% paid up upon incorporation (higher minimums may be required of certain types of entity such as banks and insurance companies)


 may not issue bonds or other securities may issue bonds and other securities

Both sociedades limitadas and sociedades anónimas may be formed by a single member under the names sociedad limitada unipersonal or S.L.U. (a “single-member limited liability company”) and sociedad anónima unipersonal or S.A.U. (a “sole shareholder corporation”). Both S.L.s and S.A.s may likewise be partially employee owned, and will operate as either a sociedad limitada laboral or S.L.L. (“employee-owned limited liability company”) or a sociedad anónima laboral or S.A.L. (“employee-owned corporation”). Corporations whose shares are traded on a stock market are known as sociedades anónimas cotizadas.

Other, perhaps less common forms of doing business in Spain include:

  • sociedades profesionales (“professional entities”)
  • sociedades cooperativas (“cooperatives;” “co-ops”)
  • agrupaciones de interés económico (“economic interest groupings”)
  • uniones temporales de empresas (“temporary business alliances”)
  • asociaciones (“associations”)
  • fundaciones (“foundations”)


Legal English Terms Ending in “-OR” and “-EE”

Legal English for Spanish Speakers

English terms ending in the suffixes “–OR” and “–EE” are sometimes a source of confusion for Spanish speakers. “-OR” (and sometimes “-ER”) is the active-agent noun suffix (lessor—one who leases property; indorser—one who indorses a negotiable instrument). As Bryan Garner* has noted the “–EE” suffix originally had an inherently passive sense as the “one who is acted upon” (acquitee—one who is acquitted; arrestee—one who is arrested). Another common usage of the “-EE” suffix has a dative sense, acting as the passive agent noun for an indirect object (grantee—one to whom property is granted; indorsee—one to whom a negotiable instrument is indorsed; lessee—one to whom property is leased). But other uses have developed in which words ending in “–EE” do not have a passive sense at all (asylee—one who seeks asylum; escapee—one who escapes).

In Spanish “–OR” words often (but not always) end in “–OR,” “–ANTE,” “–ENTE,” or “-ISTA,” while “–EE” words often end in “-ADO,” “–ARIO” or “–ORIO.” There are no sure-fire rules, and for Spanish-speaking lawyers who use English and translators of legal texts it may be useful to simply memorize the corresponding Spanish “–OR” and “–EE” pairs.

I am sharing below the English pairs that I believe are most commonly used in legal contexts, along with a possible Spanish translation for each. Most are in common usage, some less so. Some are “-OR”/”-EE” pairs; others don’t have both forms.

  •  abortionist—abortista; abortee—abortada
  • adopter—adoptante; adoptee—adoptado
  • appellant—recurrente/apelante; appellee—recurrido/apelado
  • appointee—nombrado; nominado
  • acquitee—absuelto (proceso penal)
  • assignor—cedente; assignee—cesionario
  • attendee—asistente (a una reunion, etc.)
  • breacher—parte incumplidora; breachee—parte cumplidora (breach of contract)
  • briber—cohechador activo/sujeto activo del cohecho; bribee—cohechador pasivo/sujeto pasivo del cohecho
  • designator—persona que designa; designee—designado
  • devisor—testador que lega bienes inmuebles; devisee—legatario de bienes inmuebles
  • donor—donante; donee—donatario
  • electee—elegido
  • employer—empleador; employee—empleado
  • escapee—fugado
  • evacuee—evacuado
  • evictee—desahuciado
  • franchisor—franquiciador; franchisee—franquiciado
  • garnishee—pagador de sueldo o pensión embargados
  • indictee—acusado (by indictment)
  • indorser—endosante; indorsee—indosatario**
  • internee—internado
  • kidnapee—secuestrado
  • legatee—legatario
  • lessor—arrendador; lessee—arrendatario
  • licensor—licenciante; licensee—licenciatario
  • mortgagor—deudor hipotecario; mortgagee—acreedor hipotecario
  • murderer—asesino; murderee—asesinado
  • nominee—nominado
  • obligor—deudor; obligee—acreedor
  • offeror—oferente; offeree—destinatario de la oferta
  • parolee—liberado condicional
  • patentor—autoridad que concede patentes; patentee—titular de la patente
  • payor—pagador; payee—cobrador; beneficiario del pago/de la prestación
  • pledgor—deudor pignorante; pledgee—acreedor pignoraticio
  • promisor—promitente; promisee—promisario
  • subrogor—acreedor originario; subrogee—subrogado
  • transferor—transmitente; transferee—adquirente
  • vendor—vendedor; vendee—comprador
  • vestee—beneficiario de derechos consolidados (vested rights)

*Bryan Garner. “Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage.” Oxford University Press (3rd ed.), 2011, p. 206-307.

**In British English “indorser” and “indorsee” are spelled “endorser” and “endorsee.”

Capsule Vocabularies: Testamentos

ES-EN legal translators (and lawyers and professors) often require a minimum basic vocabulary in a specific area of law, something that they will be hard pressed to find searching word-by-word in a dictionary. (In this case, the “problem” with dictionaries is that they are in alphabetical order.) Blog entries labeled “Capsule Vocabularies” will feature some of the basic terminology lists developed for use by my students of legal English that I hope may also be of interest to translator and interpreter colleagues and other legal professionals.

Testamentos (Wills)

When first faced with a translation dealing with inheritance law (Derecho de sucesiones, usually called “law of succession” in British English), translators may be surprised by the many forms a will may take under Spanish law. In the Civil Code wills are classified as either testamentos comunes (“ordinary wills”)or testamentos especiales (“special wills”), each requiring numerous formalities to be considered valid. The details are provided in Articles 676-736 CC, but some of the basic related vocabulary is provided below with their possible English renderings:

Testamentos comunes (ordinary wills)

  • Testamento abierto (“open will”)—a will made before a certifying authority, usually a notary public (testamento notarial, or “notarially-certified will”), but sometimes before a diplomatic or consular officer.
  • Testamento en peligro inminente de muerte (“deathbed will”)—a will that may be made orally and that requires specific formalities with respect to the number of witnesses (testigos). Wills made orally are known as testamentos nuncupativos (“nuncupative wills”).
  • Testamento en tiempo de epidemia (“will made during an epidemic”)—a provision in disuse that reflects the era in which the original Civil Code was enacted (1889). (Both the testamento en peligro inminente de muerte and the testamento en tiempo de epidema provide means for making a will when no notary is available, and both lapse two months after they are made if not recorded in a notarial instrument and entered in a notary’s record books (a procedure known as elevación a escritura pública y protocolización).
  • Testamento cerrado (known in English as “closed will,” “sealed will,” “mystic will” or “secret will”—a will made by the testator (testador) without the intervention of a notary and sealed in an envelope. The testator declares before the notary that the envelope contains his will and the notary affixes to it a certification to that effect. It may be kept by the testator himself, a person of his confidence or deposited with the certifying notary. Upon the testator’s death it must be opened in the presence of the judge having jurisdiction where the testator died, together with the intervening notary and witnesses. If the judge is satisfied that the document is indeed the deceased’s last will and testament, he issues an auto ordenado la protocolización del testamento (order that the will be entered in the notary’s record books).
  • Testamento ológrafo (“holographic will”)—a will that is wholly handwritten and signed by the testator. Upon the testator’s death it must be submitted to a judge to be authenticated in a process called adveración del testamento (“authentication of the will”).

Testamentos especiales (special wills)

  • Testamento militar (“soldier’s will”)—a will made by members of the military on active duty and other personnel employed by the army during times of war and certified by a military auditor (interventor militar).
  • Testamento marítimo (“sailor’s will,” “seaman’s will” or “mariner’s will”—a will made by persons on board during a voyage at sea and certified by the captain or commander.
  • Testamento del español otorgado en país extranjero (“Spaniard’s will made in a foreign country”)—a will made abroad that may conform to the laws of the country in question or be made pursuant to Spanish law in the presence of the consular officer serving as notary in that jurisdiction (testamento consular, or “consular will”).

Source: Rebecca Jowers, “Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés.” Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 801-805.

Terminology Sources: Legal Information Institute (LII)

Terminology Sources

Housed at the Cornell University Law School, the Legal Information Institute has provided open-access legal information from a variety of sources since 1992. Its “Get the Law” section includes the complete texts of the principal US legal documents. including the US Code (compendium of all permanent federal statutes), all of the Federal Rules of Procedure (civil, criminal, appellate, evidence and bankruptcy) and the Uniform Commercial Code, among others. The LII’s “Legal Encyclopedia” features hundreds of entries on business law, constitutional law, criminal law, family law, employment law, money and finances, and many other areas of law. The “Articles” section likewise has hundreds of summaries on a broad variety of legal topics. And under “Español” many of the aspects of US law are presented in Spanish. At the end of the article in Spanish there is a link to the same or similar article in English for those who may want to compare the concepts and terminology presented there in both languages.