I'm discombublated why none of my contract law textbooks define 'covenant' when they use it many times, including Anson's Law of Contract (2016 30 ed) and Contract Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (2018 8 ed).

Google furnished some articles defining 'covenant', but in US law by

Thomson Reuters Practical Law's glossary is too snippety.

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2 Answers 2


A proper definition was given by the Ninth Circuit:

A covenant is a contractual promise, i.e., a manifestation of intention to act or refrain from acting in a particular way, such that the promisee is justified in understanding that the promisor has made a commitment. A condition precedent is an act or event that must occur before a duty to perform a promise arises. Conditions precedent are disfavored because they tend to work forfeitures. Wherever possible, equity construes ambiguous contract provisions as covenants rather than conditions. However, if the contract is unambiguous, the court construes it according to its terms.

See the entire opinion

According to Cornell web dictionary:

A covenant is a promise in a contract or contract-like legal agreement. For example, lease agreements include covenants to pay rent.

So, a covenant is a type of promise and it is part of the contract or agreement. A contract will have other clauses and a covenant is one of them.

  • I'm asking about English law though. Can you cite an English case?
    – user89
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 4:02
  • The book Contract Law, by Neil Andrews, offers several examples and cases. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 4:30

I can't think of any difference in the legal effect of a "covenant" than a promise or contract, and I've never seen a case that has made that distinction with any legal effect.

For example, a land covenant could also be called "a land use agreement" or a "property restriction" or a "negative easement", instead of a covenant, with the same legal effect.

The term covenant is customarily used for promises that run with the land, or for promises made in connection with a financing transaction (e.g. a "loan covenant"). The term covenant is also sometimes used as a synonym of "provision" or "section" within a contract or agreement or lease or legal instrument that contains a promise.

But, it isn't improper or incorrect to use the term in most other contexts, even though it would be non-standard in some of them. "Covenant" is often used redundantly in a phrase such as "contracts, covenants and agrees" in all sorts of contracts, which simply reflects the common practice of using redundant terminology in legal transactions.

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