Noscitur a sociis

A word is known by the company it keeps.

There are three rules of language applied by the courts to assist them in interpreting statutes. The rules of language are referred to as intrinsic aids or internal aids. The three rules of language are:

Ejusdem generis ("of the same kind")

Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius ("the express mention of one thing excludes all others", R v Inhabitants of Sedgely (1831)).

and the noscitur rulethe rule of noscitur a sociis means that the meaning of a word is to be found from the context, or a word is known by the company it keeps. The rule therefore involves looking at other words in the same section as the word in dispute or other parts of the Act. The sense or meaning of other words or parts of the Act help with the meaning of the word in question.


The rule can be illustrated by reference to the case of Inland Revenue Commissioners v Frere (1964) where the meaning of the word 'interest' was required. The section in the The Income Tax Act of 1952 referred to ' interest, annuities or other annual interest' to be deducted from the income and the question arose as to whether this meant interest paid daily, monthly or annually. Under the noscitur a sociis rule, the mention of amount of interest related only to annual interest and as the respondent's interest payment was not an annual interest payment he could not deduct it from his income and he had to pay tax on it.


In Muir v Keay (1875) the court considered the Refreshment Houses Act 1860 which dealt with public refreshment, resort and entertainment and the licensing of premises. The courts had to decide how to determine the meaning of entertainment. The defendant argued that his café did not need a licence because he did not provide entertainment. The court held that “entertainment” did not mean musical entertainment but the reception and accommodation of people, so the defendant was guilty.


In Bromley London Borough Council v Greater London Council (1982) other parts of an Act were examined in order to establish the meaning of the word 'economic'. The case concerned the question of whether the GLC were lawfully able to operate a subsidised fare scheme at a loss. The House of Lords ruled that 'economic' meant that the scheme should operate on business lines and that this could not be applied to the scheme in question as it would, by definition, run at a loss.


Inland Revenue Commissioners v Frere [1964]

Bromley LBC v Greater London Council [1981] UKHL 7 (17 December 1981)




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