Definitions (Adjectives)

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.


The purpose of this article is to clarify that, although nouns are most often used as the defined term when drafting a definition, there is also the option of using an adjective as the defined term.


It may, in certain cases, be beneficial to define an adjective rather than a noun or a compound noun, as evidenced in the example under the heading “Analysis”. That example demonstrates the importance of carefully considering which part of speech is to be used as the defined term. Additionally, it may be appropriate to use a single word as the defined term because a lengthy defined term may reduce the flexibility available with respect to the use of the term throughout the text and may even make the text heavier or more cumbersome since, in general, a defined term is to be written out in full each time that it appears. For example, defining the participial adjective “tested” (tested, in respect of a mixture, describes a mixture for which there is data of the types set out in section 1) instead of the compound noun “tested mixture” makes it possible to use the defined term in a variety of ways: “If mixtures A and B have been tested and mixture C has not been tested, then…”; “If one of the mixtures is a tested mixture that is classified in a category...”.


Although nouns are the most commonly defined part of speech, legislative counsel should be aware that they have the option of defining an adjective when appropriate. The following are examples of properly defined adjectives.

  • transboundary, in relation to a field or an accumulation of oil or gas, means extending beyond the Board’s jurisdiction under this Act.
  • substantially gainful, in respect of an occupation, describes an occupation that provides for a salary or wages equal to or greater than the maximum annual amount a person could receive as a pension.
  • corrosive, in relation to a mixture or substance, means liable to cause skin corrosion.
  • crushed, with respect to the cranium of a seal, means that both halves of the cranium have been broken.
  • power-driven, in respect of a vessel, means that the vessel is propelled by an engine or has an engine on board to propel it.
  • appropriate, with respect to a person, means that the person has the legal power to sign.
  • infested means containing any injurious, noxious or troublesome insect or animal pest.
    • 1 If grain stored in an elevator is found to be infested, the operator of the elevator must treat the infested grain in accordance with instructions issued by the Commission.
  • encrypted means treated electronically or otherwise for the purpose of preventing intelligible reception.
    • 2 It is prohibited to decode an encrypted subscription programming signal or encrypted network feed otherwise than under an authorization from the lawful distributor of the signal or feed


Sometimes the part of speech used as the defined term may cause difficulties further on in the text as can be seen in the following example.

  • traded security means a security that is traded on a recognized stock exchange, commodities exchange or over-the-counter market.
    • 3 An association may, directly or indirectly, acquire the actively traded securities of a third party from a related party.

On the face of it, there does not seem to be an issue with the definition.  However, since the defined term is a compound noun composed of a participial adjective (traded) and a noun (security) that are considered to be a single unit for the purposes of the definition, the use of the defined term and the adverb that modifies it in the above example becomes problematic. Although it was not likely the intent, the adverb “actively” modifies the entire defined term “traded security” not just “traded” and the sentence is therefore illogical and ungrammatical.

This example demonstrates why it is sometimes appropriate to use an adjective as the defined term.

This issue can be resolved by simply defining the participial adjective “traded” alone.

  • traded in relation to a security, means that the security is bought and sold on a recognized stock exchange, commodities exchange or over-the-counter market.

*Note: Legislative counsel should pay particular attention when drafting cross-references to defined adjectives since there could be ambiguity as to which term is being referenced, as demonstrated in the following example.

  1. 4 Section 5 does not apply in respect of traded securities, as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Act.

Although the defined term is italicized, the significance of it may not be clear to the uninitiated reader. Counsel should consider drafting such cross-references as follows.

  1. 4 Section 5 does not apply in respect of securities that are traded, as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Act.

Questions and Answers

Question 1:

Is it acceptable to define a noun or a compound noun in the English version even if an adjective is defined in the French version?


It will depend on the circumstances. It may not always be necessary to define the adjective in the English version, particularly if the components of the defined term will always appear together and in the same form. The fact that different parts of speech are defined in the English and French versions will not itself result in a discrepancy, as demonstrated in the following example.

  1. converted credit union means a federal credit union that has been converted into a bank with common shares. (transformée)
  2. transformée Qualifie la coopérative de crédit fédérale qui a été transformée en banque ayant des actions ordinaires. (converted credit union)
  3. 2 (1) A conversion proposal must be written in language that is clear and simple and must include the proposed name of the converted credit union.

  4. 2 (1) La proposition de transformation doit être rédigée dans un langage clair et simple et doit comprendre le nom prévu de la coopérative de crédit transformée.

Question 2:

Is it always necessary to include an expression such as “in relation to”, “in respect of” or “with respect to” in the definition of an adjective?


Those expressions are used when the intent is to limit the application of a definition, allow the definition to include a particular relationship as part of the meaning or allow the meaning of the defined words to shift depending on the circumstances addressed in the definition. They serve to identify what exactly the adjective is intended to modify. Further discussion of those expressions can be found in the “Definitions” article.

Question 3:

What is the most common type of error made when defining an adjective?


One of the most common errors is not using the same part of speech in both the definition and the defined term. For example, an adjective must not be defined as a noun.

  • Incorrect: multi-fuel means a vehicle capable of operating on two or more different fuel types.
  • Correct: multi-fuel, in relation to a vehicle, means that the vehicle is capable of operating on two or more different fuel types.
  • Incorrect: appropriate means, with respect to a VHF channel, the channel specified in notices to mariners for use in a traffic zone for vessel traffic management purposes.
  • Correct: appropriate, with respect to a VHF channel, describes the channel specified in notices to mariners for use in a traffic zone for vessel traffic management purposes.