Legal Meanings of “stay”

In nonlegal contexts “stay” is generally a synonym of “remain.” But in the language of court procedure “stay” (as a noun and as a verb) has a peculiar meaning, often referring to the postponement or suspension of a judicial proceeding. In that regard “to stay a trial” means suspender el juicio, while “stay of proceedings” may be rendered as suspensión de las actuaciones. And in reference to a court’s ruling, the expressions “stay of enforcement” and “stay of execution” both denote suspensión de la ejecución (de una sentencia). In that regard, although nonlawyers may associate the expression “stay of execution” specifically with the suspension of a death sentence, the expression may actually denote the suspension of the enforcement of any judgment.

Legal Meanings of “file” and “to file”

In nonlegal usage, “file” and its verb form “to file” are most often associated with the meanings archivo and archivar. In that sense, expediente is often the term that denotes a court’s (or a lawyer’s) “case file.” But in legal language “filing” is must often be translated as presentación while, as a verb, “to file” is generally rendered as presentar. In that regard, in procedural contexts “filing (or) entering an appearance (in the proceedings)” corresponds to a party’s personación (en la causa/en autos) in Spanish procedure. In civil litigation one may “file a complaint or counterclaim” (presentar una demanda o reconvención), while in criminal contexts one may “file (or) bring charges” (presentar una denuncia/querella). In family proceedings, a spouse may “file for divorce” (presentar demanda de divorcio), and in guardianship cases a potential guardian “files for guardianship” (promueve la constitución de la tutela). As a final example, in tax law contexts, one “files a tax return” (presenta la declaración de la renta).

Legal Meanings of despacho

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

Despacho is one of those common words that can have several different meanings in legal contexts. It is perhaps most often used in the expression despacho de abogados, one of the Spanish terms for “law firm.”

In the context of customs law (Derecho aduanero), despacho aduanero denotes “customs clearance” and despachar mercancías en aduanas is “to clear the goods through customs.” In EU customs terminology, despacho is often expressed as “release:” despacho a libre práctica (“release for free circulation”); despacho a consumo (“release for consumption”).

And in a third sense, despacho can also be a synonym for título, being defined in the DLE as documento escrito, título o comisión que se da a alguien para algún empleo o cargo. As an example, after finishing their training at the Escuela Judicial in Barcelona, newly-graduated Spanish judges receive their diplomas and assignments (destinos) in a ceremony known as entrega de despachos.

Legal Meanings of “Determine” and “Determinable”

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

There are several legal contexts in which “determine” actually means “terminate,” i.e., “to come or bring to an end,” an archaic usage that is often unknown to nonlawyers and which may prompt confusion in translation. As examples, an “option to determine the lease” refers to an “option to terminate” that lease, while “this agreement shall determine upon the expiry of the Term” means that the lease will “terminate” when the Term expires.

Likewise, the adjective “determinable” is often used to describe an interest in property that will automatically terminate upon the occurrence of a specified event. Thus, the expressions “determinable fee estate,” “determinable fee,” and “fee simple determinable” refer to an estate (in this case, an ownership interest) in real property liable to terminate automatically if a given event occurs. If the event never occurs, ownership is absolute. As an example, if property is conveyed to a church “as long as it is used for church purposes,” the church has a fee simple determinable in that property. If the church ceases to use the property for church purposes, its rights in the property will terminate. Similarly, an “easement” (servidumbre) may likewise be created to determine (terminate) upon the happening of a specific occurrence (called a “determinable easement”).

(For more on easements, see here.)

Legal English: “legal” meanings of “award”

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

Everyone with a minimal knowledge of English will recognize “award” as a synonym of “prize” (the Academy Awards; The Best Fifa Football Awards). But there are several legal meanings of “award” that might not be so obvious. In the context of court rulings, a judge may “award damages” to the successful party in a civil suit. But ¡ojo! In Spanish this is expressed from the perspective of the losing party who is condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios (literally, “ordered to pay damages”) to the successful party.

Likewise, a court may “award costs” to the successful party in litigation, which (once again) in Spanish is expressed from the perspective of the losing party who is condenado en costas (“ordered to pay costs”). In that regard, condena en costas is a “costs award” or “award of costs,” but is also often expressed in English as a “costs order” or “order for costs.”

In arbitration, an arbitrator’s decision is not a judgment, but rather an “award” (in Spanish, laudo arbitral). So, “award” in this context must always be translated as laudo.

And, as a final example, in English a contract is “awarded” to the winning bidder. Thus, adjudicar un contrato is “to award a contract” (never “adjudicate,” a false friend explained here).

Common Words with Uncommon (Legal) Meanings: señalar; señalamiento

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt serious translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored. Here we take a look at possible legal meanings of señalar and señalamiento.

In common usage señalar means “to show, underscore or point out.” But in Spanish court procedure señalar often has the meaning of “to schedule,” “to docket” or “to calendar” (i.e., to set the date for trial, for rendering judgment, or for some other court event). Thus, the expression se acordó señalar el día diez de enero para votación y fallo indicates that the case in question was “scheduled (or) docketed (or) calendared for final deliberations and rendering judgment on January 10.”

The noun form is señalamiento and is often used in the sense of “trial.” Thus. petición de suspensión de vista por tener el letrado dos señalamientos is a lawyer’s request to have a hearing postponed due to his having two trials (señalamientos) scheduled on the dockets of different courts at the same time and day. In such cases the court is asked to señalar nueva fecha (reschedule the hearing on another day).

In other respects, in the informal jargon of Spanish real estate transactions señalar is sometimes used with the additional meaning of dar una señal (“to give a deposit” or “to put up earnest money”). Thus entregaron una cantidad de dinero para señalar el piso means “they put up earnest money as a deposit on the apartment.”

“Entertain” Used in Legal Contexts

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

In everyday English “entertain” is most often associated with providing amusement or with offering hospitality to a guest. But as a verb, “entertain” has the additional meaning of “to bear in mind” or “to take under consideration,” and in legal contexts means “to give judicial consideration to” (Black’s). Thus “the court entertained the motion for continuance” indicates that the judge considered the party’s request for a delay (but may or may not have decided to grant it). Here are a few examples of how “entertain” is used in this context:

  • In no event shall any judge entertain such motion if it be made after the making of an opening statement by counsel for plaintiff.
  • Court finds that it cannot entertain the case because there was no dispute between the parties on the date when the application was filed.
  • The judge will not entertain any written discovery motions until the Court has been provided with an opportunity to informally mediate the parties’ dispute.
  • In the absence of leave from an appellate court, a trial judge lacks jurisdiction to entertain a motion while judgment is pending on appeal.

Legal Meanings of “Call”

Common Words with Uncommon Legal Meanings

The common word “call” is often used in legal expressions as a verb, noun or adjective in which it can rarely be translated literally as “call.” To cite just a few examples, “to call a meeting” is convocar una reunión, while “to call a meeting to order” might be rendered as abrir la sesión. “To call an election” is convocar elecciones, while “to call a loan” denotes a demand for accelerated repayment (exigir el reembolso anticipado de un préstamo). “To call a witness” or “to call to testify” are expressions that both may mean citar a un testigo. And in England “to be called to the bar” is to be admitted to the legal profession by one of the Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers).

As a noun, in the language of securities trading “call” or “call option” refers to an opción de compra, as opposed to a “put” or “put option” that denotes opción de venta (often paired together as “put and call”). “To call the roll” is pasar lista (noun: roll call), and in the context of shareholders meetings a “quorum call” is roll call of shareholders to determine whether a quorum is present.

And, finally, the adjective “callable” is also widely used in securities trading as a synonym of “redeemable,” as in “callable bonds” (bonos redimibles), i.e., bonds that may be redeemed by the issuer before maturity (que se pueden rescatar antes de su vencimiento).

Legal Meanings of “rise”

legal words

The everyday word “rise” is used in at least two different contexts in US courtroom procedure. First, when a judge enters the courtroom, the bailiff or other court official shouts out, “All rise!” to call the court to order and to signal that those present in the courtroom should stand until the judge takes his seat. Standard formulae for commencing court sessions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but these three are typical:

“Oyez, oyez, oyez.* The Third Circuit Court of the State of New York is now in session, Judge Jones presiding. All rise!”

“All Rise! Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having any business with the Honorable Court of Appeals of Maryland draw near and give your attention. The court is now in session. God save the State and this Honorable Court,” or

“All rise! Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! The Supreme Court of the Great State of Florida is now in session. All who have cause to plea, draw near, give attention and you shall be heard. God save these United States, the Great State of Florida and this Honorable Court.”

In a second opposite meaning, “rise” is sometimes used in the sense of adjourning a court session (levantar la sesión): “The Court rose at 2:00 pm” (Se levantó la sesión a las 14.00 horas). In this context “rise” can also refer to the final adjournment at the end of a court term (fin del año judicial), prior to summer recess (vacaciones judiciales): “Justice Stevens announced he would be retiring from the US Supreme Court effective one day after the court rises for summer recess.” “Rise” is likewise used with respect to the adjournment of parliamentary sessions: “It is expected that the 3rd reading on this Bill will occur very soon, and the House of Commons will vote on it before they rise for summer recess” (or) “The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on the penultimate sitting day before the House of Commons rose for summer recess.”


* As Bryan Garner notes in his Dictionary of Legal Usage (Oxford, 2011, p. 650), “oyez, oyez, oyez” is the cry heard in court to call a courtroom to order when a session begins (“oyez” being the Law French equivalent of “here ye” in the Middle Ages). Quoting Clarence Darrow: “When court opens, the bailiff intones some voodoo singsong words in an ominous voice that carries fear and respect at the opening of the rite.” It is pronounced “oh-yes” or sometimes “oh-yay.”

Use of interesar in Legal Texts

legal words

Rather than “to manifest interest” as the term is sometimes rendered, in legal contexts interesar often has the meaning of solicitar (to request, to petition, to motion, etc.), especially when used in pleadings and other court documents. As defined in the DLE, “interesar may mean “solicitar o recabar de alguien, datos, noticias, resoluciones, etc.” Here are a few examples in which interesar denotes solicitar in the sense of “petitioning the court,” with possible English translations:

  • práctica de la prueba que interesábamos en nuestro escrito de querella (examination of evidence requested in our criminal complaint)
  • el Ministerio Fiscal interesó que se hiciera a los solicitantes audiencia (the prosecution moved that the applicants be granted a hearing)
  • se interesaba que se señalara nuevo día y hora para la vista (a motion to continue was filed, requesting a change of date and time for the hearing)
  • se presentó escrito por el que se interesaba el sobreseimiento de las actuaciones (a motion to dismiss was filed)
  • el demandante interesaba una indemnization por daños (the plaintiff filed for damages)