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Is it just a matter of stylistic aesthetics? Could 12 months realistically ever be taken to mean anything other than what is totally synonymous with a year? The legalistic devil's advocate in me in tempted to look to differences in the numbers of months so that if month were defined as a definite period of say 30 days then you'd potentially end up with periods other than 365 or 366 days as with a year but I ultimately doubt there is any context in which this wouldn't be a pointless tree to bark up.

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    It could make a difference in the presence of a qualifier such a "calendar month" or "civil year", which will "align" the time to the beginning/end of such periods (which would obviously be different), but in the absence of such a qualifier I don't think there could be any difference. Note that the qualification could be implicit (e.g. "the 12 months following such event" / "the year following such event", but that would probably be ambiguous).
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 16:21
  • 52 weeks would definitely be different. You'd probably find "52 weeks" in a contract for a weekly magazine subscription.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 13:56

6 Answers 6

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Is it just a matter of stylistic aesthetics?

Yes.

12 months is probably more common in a lease form sometimes used for tenancies of a fixed number of months different from 12. 1 year is probably more common in a lease form sometimes used for multiple years instead of just one, but rarely for part of a year.

This is assuming, of course, that the 12 months are consecutive and not some weird time share.

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  • Suppose that we aren't discussing lease terms though but rather time periods being specified in various statutory provisions? Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 23:38
  • @JosephP. Still just stylistic preferences. Not equivalent to, for example, a distinction between days and hours, in which the hours to not necessarily begin at midnight. There is a distinction between days and months, however.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 23:46
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    "1 year is probably more common in a least form sometimes used for multiple years" - yes. Or in a lease I'm familiar with, "NINE HUNDRED and NINETY-NINE YEARS (less the last ten days)" - because, in 900+ years' time, those ten days are going to be critical to getting the place ready for the next occupants ;-)
    – psmears
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 15:12
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    @JosephP. I suspect that it relates to the fact that somebody did some kind of calculations or created a definition based upon a 365 year day with a leap year every four years and then figured out after the fact that there are no leap years in even centuries like the years 1900, 2000 and 2100, and used the :less the last ten days" language to adjust for that issue.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 17:49
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    I think that's more to do with rules against perpetuities and a bit of cat-and-mouse with workarounds. It's still effectively perpeutal, but just short of the applicable limits against that.
    – WBT
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 1:53
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"Month" is more precise than "year".

Specifying 12 months frees you from interpretative gray areas about what exactly "one year" means for periods that start in the middle of the calendar year.

Also, while there are 5 different months, there's over a dozen different years. I doubt that there's a serious risk the opposition party would argue that "year" could have meant the Galactic Year or the Lunar Year, but you never know.

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    What interpretive gray areas do you see in "year" that you don't see in "12 months"?
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 12:27
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    @Sneftel You could refer to the fiscal year (often starting in April in the UK) or the academic year (often starting in September in the UK), both of which could be confusing depending on the context. For example a teacher's salary spread over 1 year - does that mean they get paid equally over 12 months, or maybe they're paid for a full academic year which is only 11 months.
    – Wolfie
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 13:10
  • @Wolfie The names of those periods are "the fiscal year" and "the academic year". You can tell you're talking about a delineated period because of the word 'the'. And there'd be a similar ambiguity if a contract mentioned "the year". But that's not the context the OP is asking about.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 13:37
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    @Sneftel sure, but they both also vary from region to region in their definition, it's exactly the context the OP is asking about, their question is vague and asks if there is a difference between a year or 12 months, Tom answered that 12 months is slightly less ambiguous, I provided examples of why that's the case because you asked. Whether or not you think "the" does enough heavy lifting to remove that ambiguity kind of affirms why 12 months is more precise, because they are also examples of "a" year.
    – Wolfie
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 13:49
  • Specifying 12 months would help avoid confusion if other parts of contract specified calendar year.
    – jpa
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 14:31
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Many leases specify that they are for a period of twelve months, but the first month's rent payment will be prorated if the term of occupancy begins on any date other than the first of the month in question. Thus, if someone is set to occupy a property starting on March 31 for $1,000/month rent plus $1,000 security deposit, the tenant would be required to pay $1,032.26 on before moving in [$967.74 of the first month's rent would be waived for the 30/31 days the property was not occupied], and $1,000 on April 1, and ten more payments of $1,000, and would be expected to move out by the end of February 28, whereupon they would be entitled to receive a refund of $1,000 if they left the apartment in good order.

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In most, if not all, countries under secular law, it usually makes very little difference, if any at all, as other answers have explained.

However, under Jewish religious law, it makes a huge difference.

The Jewish calendar is a combination lunar/solar calendar. There are 12 (regular year) or 13 (leap year) months in each year, with 29 or 30 days in each month. The current fixed calendar (in ancient times the calendar was somewhat dependent on both a judicial review to determine leap years as well as witnesses of the new moon to determine the start of each month) has a cycle of 19 years with 12 regular years and 7 leap years. In addition to leap months, there are adjustments which allow two months to be either 29 or 30 days depending on a number of factors. The reason for these complications is to make sure that Passover is in the spring season and to make sure that certain holidays do not fall on certain days of the week.

The end result is that in the Jewish calendar there are both religious observances that vary depending on leap years, such as:

  • Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah (coming of age)
  • Yahrzeit (anniversary of death)
  • Regulations relating to mourning for a parent

as well as civil effects:

  • Salaries
  • Rentals
  • Contracts

etc.

These issues have been around "forever" in Jewish law and have been discussed at length in the Talmud and in thousands of years of Jewish literature since then. For more specific questions, head on over to Mi Yodeya.

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  • Is religious law in scope here? That's not really the sense of law that I think of in association with this site, although I suppose it would probably be relevant in one particular sovereign legal jurisdictions of debatable legitimacy but moneyless that holds the lethal power over that land as I suppose that Shari'ah would probably be relevant in contemporary Afghan law. For that matter I do wonder if there are any questions on this site on Islamic State (IS) law. Even in England ecclesiastical decrees have certain legal consequences, so it's not at all the most outlandish thing. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 8:40
  • @JosephP. In looking at the original question and also (just now) checking the help pages for this site, I see nothing excluding religious law (Jewish in my case, but Sharia and others as well). Jewish law, in particular, has formed the basis, to varying degrees of much of law in the western world - think "10 commandments on display at courthouses", and Talmudic study is often compared to the intricacies of the modern legal world. And in any case, the 12 months vs. 1 year issue of the question is specifically addressed in Jewish law, and for "secular" purposes (contracts, etc.) not just for Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 18:28
  • obvious religious ones (Bar Mitzvah, etc.). Large sections of the Talmud are about what would normally be considered civil law - damages to borrowed or rented objects, responsibility for dangerous situations (hole in the middle of the street), etc. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 18:29
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    Yes on second thought historical law is certainly in scope, so why not. I wasn't actually opposed in principle either, was just musing out loud. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 18:41
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(As per usual, in the US there are probably tons of local jurisdictions that do things differently, so this is just one common thing...)

In the US, the distinction between felony and misdemeanor charges is commonly the length of the sentence and the cutoff is commonly one year, which can usually be either a felony or misdemeanor sentence. For that reason, maximum misdemeanor sentences may be specified as 12 months and minimum felony sentences may be specified as 1 year, especially since they may be charged under the same law but treated as a different level of offense depending on circumstances (e.g. first offense may be a misdemeanor, subsequent offenses may be felony--but you could tell based on the sentence what level the charge was).

(There was some celebrity back in the 90s or early 2000s who ended up with a jail sentence of 12 months and this difference was a topic that got brought up.)

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Some jurisdictions have laws that require certain things to be specified in months rather than years, and failure to specify in the appropriate unit could make the declaration/agreement technically null and void. I recall observing a hearing where the judge gave a criminal jail sentence noting that "due to quirks of <jurisdiction> law, the sentence must be specified in months" though he also stated the years for easier interpretation. I don't recall exactly what case or jurisdiction that was, and that line would've been skipped over in any reporting about it just as any other court formality. I could imagine some quirky laws requiring that certain contracts be specified similarly.

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