Linguistic peculiarities of contract

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The interest to the problem of drawing up contracts is not occasional. Nowadays more and more people are getting involved in the world of business relationships. As a result of it, business people need specialists possessing knowledge of the English language used for writing documents.
Any serious deal should be struck with the help of contracts and agreements. A written form of agreements is a guarantee that different people, for example Buyers and Sellers, will cooperate in accordance with a certain business strategy, and their interests will be taken into consideration by their partners.
A contract makes clear such things as quantity and quality of goods, their prices, delivery terms, order of payment, and other terms.


Introduction 4

Chapter 1. Contracts. General characteristics and types 7
English of documents’ writing 7
Theoretical problems of the language of documents 13
The structure of contract and its essential clauses 15
Types of contracts. Abbreviation 19

Chapter 2. Linguistic peculiarities of contract 23
2.1. Contract as a type of text and its stylistic characteristics 23
2.2. Grammatical peculiarities of contract 26
2.3. Lexical peculiarities of contract 32

Conclusion 38

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Introduction            4


Chapter 1. Contracts. General characteristics and types     7

    1. English of documents’ writing         7
    2. Theoretical problems of the language of documents              13
    3. The structure of contract and its essential clauses              15
    4. Types of contracts. Abbreviation                19


Chapter 2. Linguistic peculiarities of contract               23

2.1.  Contract as a type of text and its stylistic characteristics             23

2.2.  Grammatical peculiarities of contract                26

2.3.  Lexical peculiarities of contract                 32


Conclusion                     38


References            42 



The interest to the problem of drawing up contracts is not occasional. Nowadays more and more people are getting involved in the world of business relationships. As a result of it, business people need specialists possessing knowledge of the English language used for writing documents.

Any serious deal should be struck with the help of contracts and agreements. A written form of agreements is a guarantee that different people, for example Buyers and Sellers, will cooperate in accordance with a certain business strategy, and their interests will be taken into consideration by their partners.

A contract makes clear such things as quantity and quality of goods, their prices, delivery terms, order of payment, and other terms. Contract serves to make a business operation smooth and logic. It also proves seriousness of contracting parties and defines their responsibilities before each other. An honest word of a businessman, as well, should be reflected in a contract of a different kind. It is called intentions agreement and is a manifestation of a wish to do business. That is, every step and stage of a business deal should be supported in a legal way, in an official form.

The chosen problem has appeared to be very urgent, because linguistics lacks its precise description. There is a clear-cut between formal and informal styles of English, but there is no strict difference between spoken and written business English. Obviously, businessmen do not communicate with their companions using intricate phrases and bookish words. Still, they are obliged to use some formal clichés which may sound strange to non-business people, but are essential for conducting business. Anyway, in the research we have been trying to investigate the written part of business procedure, and to analyse texts of contracts considering their specific peculiarities.

Another thing to be mentioned is that there are very few scientific researches devoted to the problem of drawing up business documents. As a result of it, theory of writing business papers, on the one hand, reflects highly subjective approaches. On the other hand, such approaches are not unified in accordance with existing rules of formal English which is also greatly influenced by informal English. Such influence really exists, but there are no accepted criteria about what changes should be taken into consideration. That is why people who draw up contracts suffer quite understandable problems: How should they do it to sound correct in the foreign language? To what degree should they be formal in the text of contract, if even English-speaking people meet difficulties of a special kind in drawing a line between formal and informal English? However, these problems are side problems of making up contracts here.

The object of the research, thus, is a contract as a part of a business deal and a type of written business English. Its subject comprises investigation of linguistic peculiarities of a contract which make technique of its writing obligatory for people involved in drawing up business documents.

The purpose of the research is to investigate peculiarities in texts of contracts. It is performed through comprehension, interpretation and analysis of contractual essential clauses, all of them illustrated by examples from texts of contracts.

The solution of the aim claims for doing away with a number of certain tasks, such as:

  1. to point out main features of formal English as the language of business correspondence;
  2. to describe the structure of contract and to single out its main clauses which are characteristic of this type of documents;
  3. to expose peculiarities of contract dividing them into three general groups of stylistic, grammatical and lexical peculiarities.

In order to solve these tasks the author of the research has used methods of studying and analysis of theoretical literature and practical manuals on the problem; the methods of observation, description, means of syntactic and semantic analyses.

The research has been performed in four interrelated steps. Analysis of literature on the problem has logically been the first stage. After it, theoretical basis of the research has been compiled. Then the author has picked up examples illustrating grammatical, lexical and stylistic peculiarities of contracts. At last, generalisation of results of the research and drawing up final conclusions have been performed.

In fact, linguistic peculiarities of contracts in comparison with their structure and functioning in the business world have not been investigated thoroughly enough yet. There are either economic papers on forms and types of contracts, or linguistic researches on stylistic peculiarities of formal English. To state a connection between those kinds of data and make links between them describing texts of contracts and to analyse their distinguishing features are the main factors of scientific novelty of the research.

The practical significance of the research is in possible application of its results in practice by people who are interested in drawing up contracts and in the way of doing it correctly. It can be also be of an interest for people studying problems of style in English and functional usage of formal and informal styles. The results of the research can be taken into consideration by students and instructors of English and English stylistics. As well they can be used as material for special courses on business English for students of linguistic and economic departments.

The examples for analysis have been selected by the method of overwhelming excerption from texts of contracts dated different years. This fact can be a basis for comparison of linguistic devices used in them. In order to make analysis of examples more precise, the author has used data not only of linguistic, but those ones of economic dictionaries as well.

The structure of the research includes introduction, two chapters, seven paragraphs, conclusion and references. The total volume of the research is 43 pages. 

Chapter 1. Contracts. Their general characteristics and types

    1. English of documents’ writing

A document in its any appearance has always been an important part of business doing. Business contracts are impossible without correspondence all over the world. It does not matter, whether you communicate with your partner on the phone (orally) or through telexes (in writing). All decisions and terms must be confirmed by documents.

All business papers, both correspondence (letters), telexes, enquiries, offers, claims (complaints) and contracts (agreements) are normally associated with striking business deals and their procedure. Such documents are made up and signed “by a judicious authority and are of legal importance” [5, P.7]. As a result of it, business documents are written in accordance with some officially accepted forms, common for everybody who wants to do business.

The official business language is sometimes called officialese and differs from other kinds of the English language, mostly because of specific character of its functional usage, which can be illustrated in classical terms of style, its predestination, and main features.

A functional style of a language is characterised by the greater or less typification of its constituents and supra-phrasal units, in which the choice and arrangement of interdependent linguistic means are calculated to secure the purpose of communication [3, P.312].

The style of official documents is divided into sub-styles of the language of  business documents, legal documents, diplomacy, and military documents. The aim of the style of official documents is to state conditions binding two parties in an undertaking and to reach agreement between them.

General features of the style of English of documents’ writing are the following:

  1. conventionality of expression;
  2. absence of emotiveness;
  3. encoded character of the language system (including abbreviations);
  4. general syntactical mode of combining several pronouncements into one sentence [3, P.316].

The syntactical pattern of business correspondence style is made up from compositional patterns of variants of this style which have their own designs. The form of a document itself is informative, because it tells something about the matter dealt with. From the viewpoint of its stylistic structure, the whole document is one sentence. It looks like separate, shaped clauses often divided by commas or semicolons, and not by full stops, often numbered. Every predicate construction begins with a capital letter in the form of a participial or an infinitive construction.


e.g. 3. Claims

3.1. In case of non-confirmity of the quality of the goods actually delivered by Sellers with the contract specification, any claim concerning the quality of the goods may be presented within two months of the date of delivery;

3.2. No claim to be considered by Sellers after expiration of the above period;

3.3. No claim presented for one lot of the goods shall be regarded by Buyers as a reason for rejecting any other lot or lots of the goods to be delivered under the present contract;

3.4. ……… [6, P.202].


This structurally illogical way of combining definite ideas has its sense. It serves to show the equality of the items and similar dependence of participial and infinitive constructions or predicate constructions.

One of the most striking features of this style is usage of words in their logical dictionary meaning. There is no room for contextual meanings or for any kind of simultaneous realisation of two meanings. Words with emotive meanings are not to be found there either [3, P.31].

Every type of business documents has its own set phrases and clichés which  may sound strange in colloquial English, e.g. invoice, book value, currency clause, promissory note, assets, etc. If a person wants to avoid misunderstanding, he / she should use glossary of commercial terms, and vice versa.

Indeed, there are many differences in the vocabulary of formal and informal business correspondence. Much vocabulary of formal English is of the French, Latin and Greek origin. They are often translated into informal language by replacing them by words or phrases of the Anglo-Saxon origin.

e.g.  Formal style     Informal style

commence      begin, start

conclude      end, finish, stop

prolong, continue    go on

Let us compare examples where these words are used in different styles.

e.g.  I am informing you that the meeting will commence at 4 p.m. (formal)

I’d like to remind you that the meeting will begin at 4p.m. (informal)

The meeting concluded with signing the contract. (formal)

The meeting ended with signing the contract. (informal)

Phrasal and prepositional verbs are characteristic of informal style, that is why they are not used in business correspondence. Their formal equivalents are used in official texts instead.

Formal style  Informal style

discover       find out

explode       blow up

encounter       come across

invent       make up

investigate       look into

e.g. In case of discovering discrepancy of quality and quantity of the product inform us immediately.

Spoken English is full of various vocabulary, both standard and slangy. We also have here different connectors, such as well, you see, a kind of which cannot be used in written business English, both logically and stylistically. They are logically excluded because of a little amount of information they convey. Business documents, on the contrary, convey a lot of information in almost any word. Thus, a person should be aware of these factors and not mix up colloquial and business English, drawing up a document.

Informal terms have emotive qualities which are not present in formal language. Formal language often insists on a greater deal of preciseness. But the problem is that there are not always proper equivalents in formal and informal English. The informal word job, for instance, has no formal equivalent. Instead of it, we have to look for a more restricted in usage and a more precise term, according to the context, among possible variants: employment, post (esp. Br.E.), position, appointment, vocation, etc. [16, P.12 – 13]

Business English is formal. We use it in business correspondence, official reports and regulations. Actually, it is always written. Exceptionally it is used in speech, for example, in formal public speeches. There are various degrees of formality, like in the examples:

e.g.  After his father’s death, he had to change his job. (informal)

On the disease of his father, he was obliged to seek for alternative employment. (formal)

These sentences mean roughly the same idea, but would occur in different situations. The first sentence is fairly neutral (common core) style, while the second one is very formal, in fact stilted, and would only occur in a written business report.

In general, grammar rules of spoken sentences are rather simple and less constructed than grammar of written sentences, especially in agreements. It is more difficult to divide a spoken conversation into separate sentences, and connections between one clause and the other are less clear because the speaker relies more on the hearer’s understanding of the context and situation, as well as on his ability to interrupt if he fails to understand. The speaker is able to rely on features of intonation which tells us a great deal that cannot be reflected in written punctuation.

The grammar use in business correspondence is also different about the pronouns who and whom, and the place of prepositions:

e.g. She wanted a partner for her business in whom she could confide. (formal)

  She longed for a partner (who) she could confide in. (informal)

In what country was he born? (formal)

What country was he born in? (informal)

Formal written language often goes impersonal style. That means that one doesn’t refer directly to himself / herself or to his / her readers, but avoids pronouns. Some of the common features of impersonal language are passive sentences beginning with the introductory word it and abstract nouns. The effect of the change into a passive construction is to reverse the focus from the subject to the object of speech.

Abstract nouns, especially amount words (majority, minority, amount), specify more precisely the meaning of an utterance.

e.g.    Announcement from the librarian

It has been noted with concern that the stock of books in the library has been declining alarmingly. Students are asked to remind themselves of the rules for the borrowing and return of books, and to bear in mind the needs of other students. Penalties for overdue books will in the future be strictly enforced. [16, P.13]

It is a very formal and impersonal message which could have been written in a more informal and less impersonal way, achieved by usage of phrasal verbs, contractions, colloquial phrases and other linguistic means:

Librarian’s message

The number of books in the library has been going down. Please make sure you know the rules for borrowing, and don’t forget that the library is for everyone’s convenience. So from now on, we’re going to enforce the rules strictly. You have been warned! [16, P.13]

To be tactful is to avoid causing offence or distress in correspondence. Sometimes it means disguising or covering up the truth. In such a case, the use of imperatives should be polite:

e.g. Would you like to stipulate details of the contract?

Let us compare some more examples:

e.g. I suggest that we postponed signing of the contract till tomorrow. (tactful)

Could I suggest that we postponed signing of the contract till tomorrow. (tentative and more tactful)

In other cases tentativeness is not connected with tact, but is simply an indication of the speaker’s reluctance to commit himself / herself on a given question. To use of might is characteristic of business correspondence, because it is a more tentative way of expressing possibility than may. Let us compare two sentences:

e.g.   It may have been an error in a business deal.

It might have been an error in a business deal.

In the second sentence might presupposes a greater degree of uncertainty and sounds more tactful than may.

Texts of business documents are specific and aimed at a definite purpose. In order to make one’s business work and work effectively, a person should possess knowledge of language standards in business letters. Skilful application of this knowledge is somehow determined by standards of documents’ writing. If a document is written in an accepted way, it will be assessed by specialists. A unified business text takes up less time and work to compile in comparison with private letters.

Since a writer of a business letter has a unified form in front of him / her, this person follows a set pattern while doing it. All the writer’s attention is focused on major information and data which represent the subject of the document. In this way, an addressee can decode the subject-matter faster, because a document is written in the standardised form.

Moreover, if business documents are drawn up in a unified and, to some extent, simplified way, it takes less money spending and saves time of the dealing sides, and shortens the time of business procedure as well. A special branch of English linguistics, - business English, - is devoted to the purpose of simplifying of business making.

Written business English has got certain traits and problems of its usage, not only for foreigners, but for English-speaking business people.


    1. Theoretical problems of the language of documents

Knowledge of drawing up business correspondence is equal to communicating with people in a businesslike manner [7, P.4]. A person should know rules of documents’ writing to make one’s business effective and profitable. All of them are united under the notion of style.

A style of the language is a system of interrelated language means which serve a definite aim in communication [3, P.33]. As has already been written, the style can be formal (business written English) and informal (spoken English). The difference of formal and informal English is a matter of style and attitude of people to each other. However, it is not an easy matter to draw an exact line between formal and informal English [8, P.28], and that is the first, and the most important thing to be clarified in this paper.

English of business correspondence possesses some important qualities, common for formal style of English as well.

The language of business correspondence is very bookish and is remarkable for the usage of larger and more exact vocabulary, in comparison with informal style of communication. Sentences in documents are longer and their clauses are grammatically fitted together more carefully, which means a lot of practise for a person who draws up a contract. It is generally considered and expected that real business people, experts in their field of activity, should enjoy the preciseness and careful grammatical construction. It does not mean, of course, that business people must communicate orally in formal business style.

Formal business correspondence should be more impersonal. It should not emphasise the individuality of the writer, and takes little account of the personal qualities of people who are going to make use of it. Thus, the speaker should not refer directly to himself or his readers, but avoid the pronouns I, we, you, and it may also be of a difficulty for a person.

One more problem is that formal English lacks force and vividness. The fact that it is formal implies its great dependence on arbitrary conventions, rather than on natural speech habits [8, P.29]. That is why it is so hard for non-business  people to keep concentrating their attention on contents of documents all the time, as their attention is diverted by intricate language use. Some of them will find their long and complicated sentences rather confusing. Words of formal English may sound nice, but their meaning is often hard to get through. Very often a person must read something all over again to make sure what it means.

e.g. This stipulation being of the essence of the contract, default by the buyers shall entitle the Sellers to load and ship the goods as convenient to themselves to any of the ports named in this contract and Buyers shall take delivery accordingly. (Extract from a standard form of contract for the sale of timber through broker in the U.K.) [6, P.229]

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