June 27, 2024


Latin, the ancient language of the Romans, still plays a big part in legal language today. It’s everywhere in law, from courtrooms to legal documents. And why is Latin used in law? Latin is used in law due to its historical roots. Originating from Roman legal traditions, Latin became the foundational language for many legal systems in Europe. Its precise terms and established meanings ensure clarity and consistency in legal texts and reduce ambiguity. As Latin is a dead language, it is not subject to changes over time. This provides a stable terminology for legal concepts.

That’s why we’ve put together this little glossary. It’s like a dictionary of Latin words used in law. Whether you’re a legal professional, a student, or just someone interested in law or legal career, this glossary can help you understand these legal terms better. 

What is Caveat Emptor? 

Caveat emptor is a Latin term that means “let the buyer beware”. It places the responsibility on buyers to ensure the quality and suitability of goods or services before making a purchase. In practical terms, this means that buyers should exercise caution and diligence when entering into transactions. This is because sellers are not obligated to disclose all information about the product or service. For example, when purchasing a used car, the principle of caveat emptor implies that the buyer should inspect the vehicle thoroughly and conduct research on its history before finalising the sale. 

What is Contra Proferentem? 

Contra proferentem, a Latin principle, translates to “against the offeror”. In contract law, it serves as a rule of interpretation that applies when there is ambiguity or uncertainty in contractual terms. Essentially, when a contract provision is unclear or susceptible to multiple interpretations, courts often interpret it against the party who drafted the contract or introduced the term, usually seen as the stronger or more knowledgeable party. This principle aims to protect the party who did not draft the contract. For example, in insurance contracts, if there is ambiguity in the wording of an exclusion clause, courts may interpret it against the insurer who drafted the contract. Similarly, in consumer contracts, particularly where standard form contracts are involved, ambiguous terms are typically construed against the party that supplied the contract. This aims to safeguard the interests of the consumer. However, it might not always be the case in relation to commercial contracts between parties that have equal bargaining power. In this case, the rule will most probably have a very limited role. 

What does De Minimis mean? 

De minimis is a Latin term that translates to “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” It is used in law to describe something that is so small or insignificant that it can be disregarded or overlooked. It typically refers to trivial matters or minimal amounts of something. In copyright law, de minimis is often invoked as a defence to infringing use of copyrighted material when the size of such use is so minimal that it doesn’t affect the original work’s value. Similarly, in criminal law, minor offenses that have little to no impact on public welfare may be considered de minimis and dismissed from litigation.

What does Ex Gratia payment mean? 

Latin term ex gratia simply translates to “by favour.” Ex gratia payments are voluntary payments made by one party to another out of goodwill, without any legal obligation or admission of liability. Unlike contractual or statutory payments, ex gratia payments are made as a gesture of generosity or compassion, often to resolve disputes or provide compensation for losses or grievances. In employment disputes, ex gratia payments may be offered by employers to employees in situations where legal liability is unclear or disputed. An employer may offer an ex gratia payment to settle a wrongful dismissal claim or to compensate for emotional distress or inconvenience caused by workplace issues. These payments are typically made without prejudice and are not intended to establish legal precedent or liability.

Inter alia is a Latin term meaning “among other things.” It is commonly used in legal documents to indicate that a particular list is not exhaustive and that there are other items or points not explicitly mentioned. In legal discussions, it serves to broaden the scope of a statement or argument by acknowledging that there are additional factors or considerations beyond those specifically listed. For instance, in a contract, a clause might state that certain obligations include, inter alia, payment of fees, maintenance of confidentiality, and compliance with applicable laws, indicating that these are some of the obligations but not the only ones. In a legal brief, a lawyer might refer to relevant statutes, case law, and regulations, inter alia, to support their argument, suggesting that there are additional sources of authority that support their position. Inter alia allows for flexibility and completeness in legal discussions by acknowledging the presence of other relevant factors without needing to list them all.

image of a stack of old books heading an article by EM Law about latin words, their use in law and their meanings in

What is the difference between Obiter Dicta and Ratio Decidendi? 

Obiter dictum and ratio decidendi are essential concepts in legal reasoning, particularly in the context of judicial decisions and precedents. Obiter dictum, often referred to as dicta (its plural), refers to “other things said.” Therefore, remarks made by a judge in a court opinion that are not essential to the decision of the case. These statements are persuasive rather than binding and do not establish legal precedent. In contrast, ratio decidendi, or the “reason for the decision,” constitutes the legal principle or rule of law upon which the court’s decision is based. It is the crucial and binding part of a judgment that establishes precedent for future cases. Understanding the distinction between obiter dictum and ratio decidendi is crucial in analysing case law and applying legal principles to similar factual situations. Obiter dictum provides valuable insights and interpretations. Ratio decidendi carries authoritative weight in shaping legal precedents and guiding future judicial decisions.

What does Prima Facie mean?

Prima facie is Latin for “at first sight.” It is a legal term used to describe evidence or a case that, on its face, appears to be sufficient to prove a particular fact or case. In legal proceedings, presenting prima facie evidence or arguments is often the first step in initiating a case or establishing a claim. In a negligence case, a claimant might present prima facie evidence such as witness statements or documentary evidence to demonstrate that the defendant breached a duty of care. Once prima facie evidence is presented, the burden of proof shifts to the opposing party to refute or rebut the evidence. In civil law cases, establishing a prima facie case is essential for the claimant to meet the initial burden of proof required to initiate the court proceedings. It serves as the foundation upon which the claimant builds their case. It is compelling the defendant to present counterarguments or evidence to defend against the allegations.

What does Pro Rata mean? 

Latin term pro rata translates to “in proportion.” It refers to the proportional distribution or allocation of something based on a specific ratio or percentage. It often involves dividing or apportioning rights, obligations, or benefits among parties according to their respective shares or contributions. For example, in a partnership agreement, profits and losses may be distributed among partners pro rata to their ownership interests. In settlement agreements, compensation or damages may be awarded to multiple parties based on their pro rata share of liability or harm. The purpose of pro rata is to promote fairness, prevent bias and therefore ensure that resources are allocated fairly and in proportion to respective entitlements, contributions or shares. 

Quantum is a Latin word for “how much.” It refers to the amount or extent of damages awarded to a party in a legal case, particularly in the context of compensation for losses suffered. In personal injury cases, quantum determines the monetary value of damages based on factors such as the severity of the injury, medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering endured by the injured party. In contract breaches, quantum evaluates the financial losses incurred by the non-breaching party as a result of the breach. It includes costs to remedy the breach and any consequential damages. For instance, if a contractor fails to deliver goods according to the terms of a contract, the quantum of damages would assess the financial impact on the party who did not receive the goods. This includes the cost of sourcing alternative goods or losses incurred due to delayed delivery. Ultimately, quantum aims to provide fair and just compensation to injured parties based on the losses they have suffered.

What does Quid Pro Quo mean? 

Quid pro quo is a Latin term that translates to “something for something.” It represents fairness and reciprocity. In contract law, quid pro quo emphasises the idea that both parties must provide something of value in return for what they receive, ensuring a mutual and reciprocal arrangement. Quid pro quo is crucial for establishing the validity of the contract as it confirms that an agreement is not one sided. This reinforces fairness and balance in contractual relationships. If the element of quid pro quo is not present, the contract is voidable or unenforceable. However, quid pro quo carries negative connotations too. You can read more about those in our blog


Understanding Latin legal terms is essential for navigating and comprehending legal documents. Familiarity with terms like “caveat emptor”“contra proferentem” or “quid pro quo” not only aids in interpreting legal texts but also enhances ability to engage with legal arguments and precedents effectively. Encouraging further exploration of these terms can deepen person’s appreciation of the legal system’s intricacies and its historical foundations, providing valuable insights into how past principles continue to influence contemporary legal practices. Understanding these terms is not just about mastering legal jargon. It is about gaining a richer, more nuanced understanding of the law itself. 

Caveat emptorlet the buyer beware
Contra proferentemagainst the offeror
De minimisthe law does not concern itself with trifles
Ex gratiaby favour
Inter aliaamong other things
Obiter dicta other things said
Ratio decidendireason for the decision
Prima facieat first sight
Pro ratain proportion
Quantumhow much
Quid pro quosomething for something

Further Reading