In contracts what is the difference from saying "a" instead of "any". For example "if a payment is late, $100 may be charged" vs "if any payment is late, $100 may be charged"

Another example "if a provision is found to be invalid, it won't affect other provisions" vs "if any provision is found to be invalid, it won't affect other provisions". Could one argue that if more than one provision was breached, then since the "a" is singular, this clause no longer holds?

  • In your examples, they probably do not matter. One might come up with exaples where it does matter. – user3344003 Jul 13 '16 at 23:10
  • There was a case where a single comma in a contract changed the meaning in a way that cost one side over $10,000,000. – gnasher729 Jul 14 '16 at 9:27

In Australia (and most common law countries), the ordinary meaning of words is generally applied unless an alternate intention is clearly expressed.

However, when construing the meaning of contracts it's not possible to look at a single clause in isolation. You'd need to look at the whole contract and the knowledge that was common to both parties at the time, to determine the meaning of the clause.

Further, in almost all contract drafted by a lawyer, plurals will be defined to import the singular, and vice versa, in order to avoid issues like this.

Without any more information, I would say that this severability clause would apply even if multiple provisions are found to be invalid.

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There are significant differences of meaning between "a" and "any", but not in the kind of examples you give. (Exploration of all of those differences is on topic for Linguistics SE but not for here). Technically speaking, both determiners represent existential quantifiers, which means "there is at least one". It is not part of the literal meaning of "any" or "a" that there be exactly one, so whether 1 or more payments are missed, the fee can be charged.

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  • 3
    Why don't you give an answer that is on context here? – Guy McG Jun 23 '16 at 5:28

In line with the previous answers, European Community v. RJR Nabisco, Inc. 814 F.Supp.2d 189, 201 (2011) addresses the question "Singular or Plural?", and states that "unless the context indicates otherwise[,] words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things.". It also cites Public Citizen, Inc. v. Mineta, 340 F.3d 39, 54 (2d Cir. 2003) (equating "a tire" under the TREAD Act to "tires").

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