Latin lingo

Legal contracts, including construction ones, often use Latin words and phrases to express something. You may come across some of these and it would be good if you understood their meaning.

So here are a few words/phrases that you might encounter, what they mean and where you might see them…

ab initio

Literal translation: from the beginning

Definition and use: “Commonly used referring to the time a contract, statute, marriage, or deed become legal. e.g., The couple was covered ab initio by her health policy.”

bona fide

Literal translation: in good faith

Definition and use: Implies sincere good intention regardless of outcome.

caveat emptor

Literal translation: let the buyer beware

Definition and use: In addition to the general warning, also refers to a legal doctrine wherein a buyer could not get relief from a seller for defects present on property which rendered it unfit for use.

ceteris paribus

Literal translation: with other things the same

Definition and use: More commonly rendered in English as “All other things being equal.”

contra proferentem

Literal translation: against the one bringing forth

Definition and use: Used in contract law to stipulate that an ambiguous term in a contract shall be interpreted against the interests of the party that insisted upon the term’s inclusion. Prevents the intentional additions of ambiguous terminology from being exploited by the party who insisted on its inclusion.

de minimis

Literal translation: about the smallest things

Definition and use: Various legal areas concerning small amounts or small degrees.


Literal translation: therefore

et al.

Literal translation: and others

Definition and use: Abbreviation of “et alii”, meaning “and others”.

et cetera

Literal translation: and other things

Definition and use: Generally used in the sense of “and so forth”.

ex gratia

Literal translation: by favor

Definition and use: Something done voluntarily and with no expectation of a legal liability arising therefrom.

in absentia

Literal translation: in absence

Definition and use: A legal proceeding conducted without the presence of one party is said to be conducted in absentia, e.g., trial in absentia or being sentenced in absentia.

in situ

Literal translation: in position

Definition and use: Often used in the context of decisions or rulings about a property or thing “left in place” after the case as it was before.

modus operandi

Literal translation: manner of operation

Definition and use: A person’s particular way of doing things. Used when using behavioural analysis while investigating a crime. Often abbreviated “M.O.”

non compos mentis

Literal translation: not in possession of [one’s] mind

Definition and use: Not having mental capacity to perform some legal act

pro rata

Literal translation: from the rate

Definition and use: A calculation adjusted based on a proportional value relevant to the calculation. An example would be a tenant being charged a portion of a month’s rent based on having lived there less than a full month. The amount charged would be proportional to the time occupied.


Literal translation: how much

quantum meruit

Literal translation: as much as it deserves; as much as she or he has earned

Definition and use: In contract law, a quasi-contractual remedy that permits partial reasonable payment for an incomplete piece of work (services and/or materials), assessed proportionately, where no price is established when the request is made.

In contract law, and in particular the requirement for consideration, if no fixed price is agreed upon for the service and/or materials, then one party would request a reasonable price for the said services and/or materials at the end of the job. A common example would be a plumber requested to fix a leak in the middle of the night.


Above are just a few of the more commonly used words/phrases that you come across. Don’t ignore them if you find them in any tender documents or contract. Understand what they mean and take the appropriate action, which might be a tender clarification, pricing a risk, issuing a query et cetera.

Latin Lingo

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