Legistics
Series of Nouns

Legistics est un recueil d’articles portant exclusivement sur les questions de rédaction en anglais des textes législatifs. La nature même de l’ouvrage fait en sorte qu’il n’est offert qu’en anglais.

Introduction

This note addresses two issues related to certain series of nouns and the effective use of indefinite articles and conjunctions to clarify meaning.

Part 1 recommends that, in order to avoid unnecessary repetition, we use a single indefinite article when beginning a particular type of series of nouns.

Part 2 sets out how best to embed bijural terms (“doublets”) in series of nouns using, when required, additional indefinite articles and conjunctions.

Part 1
The Indefinite Article and Certain Series
of Nouns Conjoined by “or”

Recommendation

In cases involving a series of nouns with mixed initial consonant and vowel sounds conjoined by “or”, it is recommended that only one indefinite article (either “a” or “an”, depending on the first noun) be used at the beginning of the series, rather than inserting the appropriate indefinite article before each noun.

Background

We have, in the past, sometimes attempted to introduce for each noun in such a series the appropriate indefinite article. For example:

(2) It is prohibited to possess a gun, a crossbow or an arrow without a licence.

This can be cumbersome and it is preferable to use only one indefinite article, placed before the first noun in the series. The above could be redrafted as:

(2) It is prohibited to possess a gun, crossbow or arrow without a licence.

This will lead to a text with less repetition.

If an element in the series does not take an indefinite article (because it is a noncount or plural noun), it must be separated out from the other elements. “It is prohibited to possess ammunition or a gun, crossbow or arrow without a licence.”

Rationale

Rather than introduce the appropriate indefinite article before each noun in a series of nouns with mixed initial consonant and vowel sounds, we can rely on the “notion” of an indefinite article expressed by the one that precedes the first noun. That notion carries through for each of the nouns in the series. The indefinite article is a morpheme (a unit of linguistic meaning) and a morpheme is abstract, that is, its meaning is independent of the phonetic form in which it appears in the text. Most grammars do not call for a series of articles for a series of nouns, though some prescriptivist usage guides do.

Part 2
Embedding Certain Bijural Terms (“Doublets”)
in a Series of Nouns

Recommendation

When drafting or amending provisions in which we need to embed bijural “doublets” — such as “agent or mandatary” — in a series of nouns, it is necessary to have a conjunction both within and outside the doublet. Also, in order to help signal such bijural groupings, it is recommended that the appropriate indefinite article be inserted before each noun in the series outside of the doublet, as well as before the first term in the doublet but not between the elements of the doublet.

Rationale

For example, the following would not be correct, because the doublet is not offset from the series as a two-word grouping:

   (5) A director required to make a disclosure under subsection (1)  must not vote on any resolution to approve the contract unless the contract
(a) relates primarily to his or her employment as a director, officer, employee, agent or mandatary of the corporation;

Doublets, which refer to things, persons or activities with similar scope or function, require an additional conjunction “or”. That conjunction would, in the case above, be inserted between the terms “employee” and “agent” — in place of the comma — to offset the bijural doublet.  (If there is any doubt as to whether the two terms in the doublet refer to such similarity of scope or function, it is best to consult the bijural team on the issue for clarification.)

In addition to the extra conjunction “or”, bijural doublets may, for clarity, require extra indefinite articles.  Thus, despite the recommendation in Part 1 to avoid repeated indefinite articles in certain cases, in the case of series of nouns containing bijural doublets, additional indefinite articles actually help to flag the doublet grouping and clarify meaning.  For example, the provision above might best be redrafted as follows:

(5) A director required to make a disclosure under subsection (1)  must not vote on any resolution to approve the contract unless the contract
(a) relates primarily to his or her employment as a director, an officer, an employee or an agent or mandatary of the corporation;

Note that no indefinite article should be inserted before the second element of the doublet.

The additional indefinite articles referred to above prove most helpful in complex series of nouns and groupings, such as the following:

“personal representative” means a person who stands in the place of and represents another person, including a trustee, an executor, administrator or liquidator of a succession, an administrator of the property of others, a guardian or tutor, a curator, a receiver or sequestrator, an agent or mandatary or an attorney.

This definition contains three doublets (“guardian/tutor”, “receiver/sequestrator” and “agent/mandatary”) and one triplet (“executor/administrator/liquidator of a succession”).

When embedding bijural terms in such doublets or triplets, remember that — in the English version — the common law term is placed first. Thus, we would never, for example, see “mandatary or agent”.

Note to Part 2:

When the first term (such as “agent”) in a doublet means something that is broader than its normal sense, be cognizant of what second term is appropriate.  For example, “agent or representative” might be required rather than “agent or mandatary”. Again, should there be any doubt, consult the bijural team.

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