Why are copies of contracts called “counterparts”?

What does a US notary do_(1)

In Anglo-American contract terminology, a copy of a contract is known as a “counterpart.” When a contract is signed, it is customary for each party to the contract to retain a counterpart of the agreement. But why do we need this term?

In English “copy” may have two distinct meanings. The expression “he gave me a copy of his latest article” may imply me dio una fotocopia de su último artículo. But rather than referring to a photocopy, “he gave me a copy of his latest novel” probably means me dio un ejemplar de su última novela. Thus, “copy” can denote la reproducción de un documento (photocopy, facsimile, etc.) as in the first example, or the document itself, un ejemplar del documento, as in the second.

In contract law the expression “counterpart” is used to denote a copy of a contract (ejemplar de un contrato) that may be considered one of several originals of the document. Each party to a contract obviously wants his own “copy” of the agreement (in the sense of ejemplar), deemed to be an original. Clauses to that effect are often included in contracts, underscoring that “This Agreement may be executed in one or more counterparts, each of which shall be an original and all of which shall constitute together the same document” or “This Contract is executed in duplicate counterparts, each of which shall have the force and effect of an original.” Counterparts are also often used to facilitate contract execution when all of the parties cannot be physically present at the signing. In this case, counterparts of the contract may be signed by different parties and are then exchanged.

The concept of signing a contract in duplicate counterparts, each deemed to be an original, is often expressed in Spanish contracts as firmado por duplicado ejemplar a un sólo efecto, or with similar wording.

What’s the right preposition to use with “right” and “rights”?

Learners of Legal English are often stumped when it comes to deciding which preposition to use in a given expression. Indeed, prepositions pose a stumbling block in many languages, and English is no exception, whether used with nouns, in prepositional phrases or appended to phrasal verbs. This week one of the students in my Legal English course asked me which preposition is used with the noun “right” (or “rights).” Most expressions require “of,” “to” or sometimes “in.” Here are some of the most common (some have two possible options):

Expressions with “OF”:

  • right of assembly (also: freedom of assembly) (derecho de reunion; libertad de reunión)
  • right of asylum (derecho de asilo)
  • right of association (also: freedom of assembly) (derecho de asociación; libertad de asociación)
  • right of establishment (derecho de establecimiento)
  • right of first refusal (derecho de tanteo)
  • right of good reputation (derecho al honor)
  • right of privacy (derecho a la intimidad)
  • right of publicity (also: publicity rights) (derecho a la propia imagen)
  • right of sufferage (derecho de sufragio)
  • right of way (derecho de paso; servidumbre de paso)

Expressions with “TO”:

  • right to counsel (derecho a la asistencia letrada)
  • right to demonstrate (libertad de manifestación)
  • right to due process (derecho a la tutela judicial efectiva)
  • right to hold public office (derecho de acceso a los cargos públicos)
  • right to life (derecho a la vida)
  • right to own property (derecho de propiedad)
  • right to privacy (derecho a la intimidad)
  • right to stand for election (derecho de sufragio pasivo)
  • right to unionize (libertad sindical)
  • right to strike (derecho a la huelga)
  • right to vote (derecho de sufragio activo)
  • right to vote and stand for election (derecho de sufragio)
  • right to work (derecho al trabajo)

Expressions with “IN”:

  • rights in property (derechos reales)
  • rights in patents (derechos sobre patentes)
  • rights in trademarks (derechos sobre marcas), etc.

(One holds rights IN property, a use most often found in the context of intellectual property, and which may actually sound unnatural to nonlawyer native speakers of English).


Translating “Cybergrooming”

Last week one of Fundéu’s daily terminology recommendations concerned possible Spanish translations for the term “grooming” or “child grooming,” defined as “a premeditated behaviour intended to secure the trust and cooperation of children prior to engaging in sexual conduct.”*

For “cybergrooming” or “online child grooming,” Fundéu suggests ciberengaño pederasta or engaño pederasta por internet as possible renderings.** But it may be of interest to note that “cybergrooming” is widely known among Spanish penalistas and other criminal law professionals as ciberacoso sexual a menores or ciberacoso sexual infantil, and was included as a specific offense as article 183ter in a 2015 reform of the Spanish Código Penal.*** Ciberacoso sexual (a menores) likewise appears to be the preferred translation for “cybergrooming” in similar legislation in Argentina and Mexico.****

*Raymond Choo, Kim-Kwang. “Online Child Grooming: a Literature Review on the Misuse of Social Networking Sites for Grooming Children for Sexual Offences.” AIC Reports. Research and Public Policy Series, No. 103, July 2009, p. 7.


***Ley Orgánica 1/2015, de 30 de marzo, de reforma del Código Penal.

****Ley 5775 para la prevención de ciberacoso sexual a menores (grooming), Legislatura de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (15 December 2016) http://www2.cedom.gob.ar/es/legislacion/normas/leyes/ley5775.html; Dictamen de la Cámara de Diputados de 14 de diciembre de 2016 para la Reforma del Código Penal Federal para tipificar los delitos de ciberacoso sexual y acoso sexual, así como para sancionar la difusión de fotografías o videos con contenido sexual sin la autorización de la persona afectada (http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2016/12/14/1134389).

Don’t confuse “therefor” with “therefore”

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The term “therefor” often appears in legal texts and is frequently confused with “therefore,” even by native speakers of English. “Therefore” means “consequently,” “for that reason,” “hence,” etc.: “I think, therefore I am.” (Pienso, luego existo). In contrast, phrasal verbs formed with “for” and prepositional phrases containing “for” are sometimes alternately rendered in legal writing as “therefor,” meaning “for that,” “for it:” Thus, “the grounds for the decision” may be expressed as “the grounds therefor,” or the “price paid for necessaries” might appear later in a document as “the price paid therefor.” Likewise, “he qualified for a pension” may be rendered as “he qualified therefor,” “the search for evidence” as “the search therefor” and “liability for damages” as “liability therefor.”

Perhaps it should be noted that the spell checker of the world’s prevailing word processing software is totally ignorant of the existence of the English word “therefor” and will insist on changing “therefor” to “therefore” in any text that you may attempt to type.

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

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.”

Legal English Expressions with “failure to”

My students of legal English sometimes tell me that they find the expressions “failure + verb” (and “to fail + verb)” confusing. Often present in legal texts, they simply express the fact of neglecting to do something, either willingly or otherwise, that may often be legally required. Many times these structures have a synonym in English commencing with “non-,” as in:

  • failure to perform (a contract/an obligation) = nonperformance
  • failure to fulfill (an obligation) = non-fulfillment
  • failure to comply (with conditions) = noncompliance
  • failure to pay (a debt) = nonpayment
  • failure to deliver (goods) = non-delivery
  • failure to use (a trademark) = nonuse
  • failure to accept (the conditions) = non-acceptance
  • failure to conform (to the standards) = nonconformance
  • failure to disclose (required information) = non-disclosure
  • failure to join (an indispensable party) = non-joinder
  • failure to attend (a meeting) = non-attendance
  • failure to appear (at trial) = nonappearance
  • failure to renew (a contract) = non-renewal
  • failure to observe (formalities, the rules, etc.) = nonobservance

It is also interesting to note that many “failure to” expressions are often rendered in Spanish with terms beginning with the prefixes “in-” or “im-”:

  • failure to perform/fulfill/comply (incumplimiento)
  • failure to pay (impago)
  • failure to appear (incomparecencia)
  • failure to attend (inasistencia)
  • failure to observe (inobservancia)
  • failure to act (inacción)

 In conclusion, in addition to the Spanish terms appearing above, “failure to” provides an appropriate translation for many legal Spanish expressions commencing with “falta de” and “omisión de” such as falta de agotamiento de la vía administrativa (failure to exhaust all available administrative remedies); falta (or) omisión de presentación de la declaración de la renta (failure to file a tax return) or omisión del deber de socorro (failure to come to the aid).

Legal English for Spanish-speakers: Nouns with Postpositive Adjectives

When Spanish-speakers learn English they are generally taught that, unlike in Spanish, adjectives are placed before the noun (the “red house,” not the “house red;” the “green car,” not the “car green”). But in legal usage (and often in everyday English too!) there are a series of nouns followed by what are often termed “postpositive (or) postnominal adjectives.” Here are a few examples with (possible) Spanish renderings:

accounts payable—acreedores; cuentas por pagar
accounts receivable—deudores; cuentas por cobrar
body corporate—entidad con personalidad jurídica (corporation; legal entity)
condition precedent—condición suspensiva
condition subsequent—condición resolutoria
corporation de facto—sociedad irregular
corporation de jure—sociedad regular
consul general—consul general
court martial—tribunal militar; consejo de guerra
fee simple absolute—dominio pleno
heir apparent—heredero presunto/forzoso
law merchant—Derecho mercantil
letters patent—patente
letters rogatory—comisión rogatoria
notary public—notario público
secretary general—secretario general
sum certain—precio cierto

To form the plural of these expressions it is generally the noun that is made plural, while the adjective remains unchanged (bodies corporate; conditions precedent/subsequent; consuls general; courts martial; heirs apparent; notaries public; secretaries general; sums certain, etc.)

(For a detailed explanation and many more examples see Bryan Garner, “Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage,” Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 692.)