General and particular terms

General and particular terms

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This precedent has been authored by Ilija Vickovich, Lecturer, Macquarie Law School and updated by Dr. Gordon Hughes, Principal, Davies Collison Cave Law.

Introductory note

Many contracts specifically refer to what has been known as the ejusdem generis rule of interpretation. The rule states that where particular words are followed by general words, the general words are limited to the same kind or class as the particular words. For example, where a statute provided that “no house, office, room or other place shall be opened, kept or used for the purposes of betting”, the ejusdem generis rule allowed a court to rule that a fenced off one-acre uncovered enclosure adjacent to a racecourse was not such a place. (See Powell v Kempton Park Racecourse Co Ltd [1899] AC 143; [1895-9] All ER Rep Ext 1488; (1899) 63 JP 260; 68 LJQB 392.) Similarly, wherever examples are given of a general class or kind, the question arises whether the examples are meant to be exhaustive.

The rule is no longer a strict rule of statutory or contractual interpretation, having been superseded by a more purposive modern approach. However, parties may wish to exclude the operation of the rule expressly or by implication by specifying that generic words are not to be narrowly construed by the examples that may follow them.