Legal English


The Habit of Doubling, Tripling & Quadrupling

The mingling of English with French has also produced some of the most characteristic collocations of the “breaking and entering” and “goods and chattels” type, in which an English word is complemented by its French equivalent. The habit of using such couplings arose at a time when there were in the language both native English and borrowed French terms for the same referent. In this situation there was often a certain amount of doubt as to whether such “synonyms” meant exactly the same thing, and there developed a tendency to write in each alternative and rely on inclusiveness as a compensation for lack of precision. 

Thus, for instance, in this era of movement of French words into English some English testators, when making a will, began certifying themselves mentally fit in two languages. They said they were “in god mynde and saf memorye” (1402), and “hole of mynde & in my gode memorie being” (1418). Repetition and rhythm welded the Old English and the Old French words into one standard phrase mind and memory, where the two words stand, as it were, for one. 

The bilingual habit grew into a legal tradition that makes it fashionable to use many phrases made up of synonyms. Thus, in the earlier quoted Statute of 1731 we come across the phrase tongue and language, where the doubled English and French words are used to reinforce each other’s meaning. The custom of doubling bilingual synonyms spread to produce other combinations of synonyms, which have long since been used as legal stock-phrases, for example, last will and testament (Old English and Latin); force and effect, null and void (all-French); to have and to hold, by and with (all-English). 

The table gives a small selection of mixed-language doublets which have entered English since the Middle Ages. And it was not long before the habit of doubling became extended to pairs of words regardless of their language of origin. In such pairings as null and void, cease and desist, heirs and assigns, and aid and abet we see French words together. In have and hold, let or hindrance, and each and every, English words are together.

Doublet Sources

acknowledge and confess

breaking and entering        

final and conclusive         

fit and proper               

give and grant               

had and received       

keep and maintain      

lands and tenements          

made and provided      

new and novel                

pardon and forgive           

peace and quiet              

shun and avoid               

will and testament           

wrack and ruin           

English / French

English / French

French / Latin

English / French

English / French

English / French

English / French

English / French

English / Latin

English / French

French / English

French / Latin

English / French

English / Latin

English / French


Not only pairs, but also groups of near synonyms are similarly coordinated. Thus, in the language of wills, we “give, devise, and bequeath” the “rest, residue, and remainder” of our worldly possessions to our “heirs, successors, and assigns.” This “Rule of Threes” has a distinguished ancestry in the law. Some of these strings of synonyms contain words of subtly different meaning; others contain “pyramiding” words (one contained inside the second, and both contained inside the third); and some are piled on because of the form and procedural requirements of a legal document. The examples include:


covenants, conditions and agreements

executors, administrators and assigns

paid, observed and performed

for and during and unto

leave, surrender and yield up

retain, repossess and enjoy

observing, performing and keeping

have, hold, use, occupy, possess and enjoy

signed, sealed and delivered

right, title, and interest


There are even quadruplets, such as in lieu, in place, instead, and in substitution of (French / French / English / French or Latin).


Copyrighted material




  The Origins of Legal English

  Attempts to Restrict Law French

  "Turning Law into English"

  Tenacity of Law French

  Legal English Today

  Doubling, Tripling & Quadrupling

  The French Legacy

  An Example of Modern Legal English


  English Today

  English among Other Languages

  Plain English Home

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