Noscitur A Sociis


A word is known by the company it keeps.


When a word is ambiguous, its meaning may be determined by reference to the rest of the statute.

One of the rules of language used by the courts to help interpret legislation. Under the doctrine of “noscitur a sociis” the questionable meaning of a word or doubtful words can be derived from its association with other words within the context of the phrase. This means that words in a list within a statute have meanings that are related to each other.

Easy way to remember

Noscitur = knowledge of
A Sociis = Association / In the society of


Foster v Diphwys Casson (1887) 18 QBD 428, involved a statute which stated that explosives taken into a mine must be in a “case or canister”. Here the defendant used a cloth bag. The courts had to consider whether a cloth bag was within the definition. Under noscitur a sociis, it was held that the bag could not have been within the statutory definition, because parliament’s intention was refering to a case or container of the same strength as a canister.

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