Doublets and Triplets in English Legal Language

Doublets and Triplets in English Legal Language

One of the linguistic peculiarities of English legal language is the use of doublets and triplets. Doublets are two synonyms used together while triplets are three synonyms used together.

It is interesting to know what makes doublets and triplets exist in English legal language and should legal translators translate all the words though they may mean the same.

Dick (1985:125) cited in Hovels (2006) argues that lawyers feel so bound by tradition that they seldom scrap any of the time‑worn phrases containing strings of synonyms, mentioning the following example from a gas pipeline easement, where the transferor conveys to the transferee: the exclusive right, liberty, privilege and easement. One of the words would have done the job, the additional three adding nothing to the contract (Hovels, 2006).

Tiesma (1999: 13–15) cited in Cao (2007) mentioned that like other Germanic tribes, Anglo-Saxons made extensive use of alliteration in the legal language, and this style is found in today’s ordinary English: ‘aid and abet’, ‘fame and fortune’, ‘might and main’, ‘new and novel’, ‘part and parcel’ and ‘safe and sound’. This tradition of doublets and triplets were later expanded into word strings or more than two or three words of synonyms (Cao, 2007).

In short, the linguistic feature of word strings in the English legal language was developed in the long history of the Common Law. It is related to the notion of the so-called ‘preventative law’, that is, to prevent the parties from having to litigate later on (Dick 1985: 1) in Cao (2007).

The following example was taken from Translating Law by Deborah Cao (2007: 91).

The Lessee covenants with the Lessor to observe and perform the terms, covenants and conditions contained in the Land Use Right and on the Lessor’s part to be observed and performed in the same manner in all respects as if those terms, covenants and conditions, with such modifications only as may be necessary to make them applicable to this Lease, had been repeated in full in the Lease as terms, covenants and conditions binding on the Lessee in favour of the Lessor.

Words used in leases in English go back in history. For instance, the words ‘terms, covenants and conditions’ may have different meanings in English property law. Thus, it would be advisable to translate these synonyms into separate words in the TL, although in some cases, it may prove to be difficult (Cao, 2007: 91).

Another example is the phrase ‘devise and bequeath’ used in wills. Often in a will, a testator will state: ‘I devise and bequeath all my real and personal property to B’. If used strictly, the term ‘devise’ is appropriate only for real property while the term ‘bequeath’ is appropriate only for personal property. Accordingly, the testamentary disposition is read as if it were worded: ‘I devise all my real property, and bequeath all my personal property, to B’ (Bennion 2002: 1070) in Cao (2007:91). Thus, it is advisable for legal translators to translate them though it takes more time and efforts.

Commonly used legal word strings (doublets and triplets) that essentially have one meaning include (cited in Dick 1985: 126–127) and in Cao (2007: 89-90):

authorise and direct;

bind and obligate;

deemed and considered;

final and conclusive;

full and complete;

furnish and supply;

over and above;

release and discharge;

finish and complete;

full force and effect;89

have and hold;

null and void;

power and authority;

save and except;

assign, transfer and set over;

build, erect or construct;

cease, desist and be at an end;

costs, charges and expenses;

obey, observe and comply with;

place, install or affix;

rest, residue and remainder;

give, devise and bequeath;

documents, instruments and writings;

changes, variations and modifications;

business, enterprise or undertaking;

bear, sustain or suffer;

advice, opinion and direction.

There may be a lack of the exact corresponding synonyms in the TL. A legal consideration is that in law, sometimes each and every word may carry different legal meanings and legal consequences. When disputes arise, courts may be asked to interpret each such individual word, and give them different meanings. Thus, for the translator, it is not always possible or advisable to combine the synonyms into one word (Cao, 2007).


Cao, Deborah. 2007. Translating Law. Toronto: Multilingual Matters. Ltd

Hovels, Jens Peter. 2006. Characteristics of English Legal Language.

Summarized by Luh Windiari

TranslationPapers Bali

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