Posted on

Ordinary English words


Seemingly ordinary English words have important and specific implications in our laws.


This word is popularly used in civil law and features in almost all cases dealt with by the court, because most people go to court to retrieve money owed to them, or to get the court to compel the other party to pay a sum of money for various reasons. Black’s Law Dictionary describes damages as “compensation in money for a loss or damage. Damage being any loss, injury or deterioration, caused by negligence, design or accident of one person to another in respect of the latter’s person or property.”{{more}}

Damages may be not only compensatory, but also punitive; that is, damages could be awarded as a means of punishment for outrageous conduct to deter future behaviour. There is one type of damages known as nominal damages, where the award is a trifling sum, because there is no substantial loss or injury to be compensated. Direct loss often comes from the breach of a contract. Once you have breached or broken certain clauses of a contract that you have made with another, there would be consequences for the breach. The law speaks of liquidated and unliquidated damages. That is, while the first refers to ascertained money, the other is not reduced to certainty in terms of the amount of money.

The law requires the plaintiff to mitigate damages. This means that one has to avoid, as much as possible, further damages after the breach of a contract. For example, if a tenant breaches the rental agreement earlier, one could find another tenant, rather than charging the unfinished term to the person who breaches.

Offer and acceptance

These are at the very centre of a valid contract and are essential for a contract to be binding.

In a contract, there must be offer, acceptance, consideration and no defenses to the formation of the contract. The offer and acceptance constitute a meeting of the minds. A person offers to buy a house and the seller accepts his price. There are an offer and an acceptance and the contract is valid, as long as there is consideration; that is, one person gets money, the other gets a property and there are no defenses to the formation of the contract. This is the mirror image doctrine at common law. If the buyer suggests another price, then there is a counter offer; if the seller accepts the counter offer, then a valid contract is formed.


Consideration is described as something for something and constitutes the money and the hardware in the contract. Black’s Dictionary describes consideration as the inducement to a contract, the cause, the motive, price of impelling influences, which induce a contracting party to enter the contract. It constitutes some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to one party or some forbearance, detriment or loss responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other. In a deed of gift the consideration for the gift is “love and affection.” Consideration could be good, adequate or valuable, express or implied and there could be a failure of consideration.

Undue influences

This is using some improper conduct to force a person to do something that is illegal. For example, this might be used by a person who forces a person to leave property or money in his/her will for him. Black’s Dictionary refers to it as conduct where a person, through his power over the mind of a testator, causes him to do what he would not otherwise have done, but for such dominion and control.

 Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: