Interpretation is an art. An art of ascertaining the meaning of a word in the statute. The word statute is called as law in India.  The sole objective of interpretation is to determine the intention of the legislature. These rules are general guidelines. There are several aids in the interpretation of statutes. There are two rules of interpretation.[i]

  1. Primary rules
  2. Other rules of interpretation.
  • Primary rules:

Primary rules are the rules of literal construction. According to this rule, the words are to be interpreted in their ordinary meaning unless the interpretation is absurd. The basic principle of this rule is that

  1. Every word should be given meaning as no word is unnecessarily used
  2. No word shall be omitted and if a word is not present in the law, it shall not be given any meaning.
  • The mischief rule:

This rule is also known as Heydon’s rule. It was named after Heydon’s case. This rule laid down 4 considerations

  1. What was the common law before the making of the Act?
  2. What was the mischief or defect that the law did not provide to solve?
  3. What remedy has been arrived at to solve the issue?
  4. The reason for the remedy?

The rule basically states that the law should be interpreted as to adopt that construction which shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. Also, this does not mean that the plain meaning shall be ignored. This rule shall be applied only when the word is ambiguous and has more than one meaning. The principle is that, once the words are construed in their own context and then found that the language is bearing only one construction, this tule ceases to control and paves the way to the plain meaning rule.

  • Rule of reasonable construction:

Also known as Ut Res Magis Valeat Quam Pareat. This rule lays down the principle that when the plain meaning does not meet the objective of reasonable construction, it becomes necessary to derive a sensible meaning of the word. This rule provides for the court to depart from the meaning given in the dictionary where it is unclear, to interpret according to the purpose of the law.

  • Rule of harmonious construction:

This rule is used when two provisions cannot be reconciled, it should be interpreted in a way, if possible, to give effect to both. This is why it is called the rule of harmonious construction. The aim is to avoid head of clash between two sections of the same act. It is the duty of the court of law to give effect to the intention of the legislature by constructing a statute. Hence the court may departure from the dictionary meaning to advance the remedy.

  • Rule of Ejusdem Generis:

Ejusdem Generis means “of the same kind or species”. This rule states that the words are to be interpreted in their natural meaning unless it requires special meaning. It is a rule that aids the court to derive at the true intention of the legislature.

There are specific conditions that need to exist in order to apply this rule.

  1. The law contains an enumeration by specific words
  2. The above constitutes a class
  3. The class is not exhausted by the enumeration
  4. A general term follows the enumeration
  5. There is a distinct genus that comprises more than one species
  6. There is no clearly manifested intent that the general term has to be given a broader meaning.

This rule must be used with great caution and must serve the purpose and object of the provision.


  • Expression unis Est Exclusio Alterius: this rule simply means that express mention of one thing implies the exclusion of the other. This rule cannot be applied when the language of the law is plain and has a clear meaning. Applying this should not lead to inconsistency or injustice.
  • Contemporanea Expositio Est Optima Et Fortissima in Lage: where the words undergo a change over the period of time, this rule of interpretation implies that the word should be construed as it was meant to be when the law was earlier passed.
  • Noscitur a Sociis: Noscitur a Sociis means “as known by its associates”. A word is to be read in collocation with its companion words. This maxim has much relevance to understand the import of words in a statutory provision. This rule should not be applied where it can cause injustice or absurdity.
  • Strict and liberal construction: acts are not to be regarded as to include anything which is not within their letter as well as their spirit which is not clearly described in the statute which is also manifestly intended. Here beneficial construction is generally preferred to advance the remedy and suppress the mischief. The court treats the literal rule, the golden rule, and the mischief rule as valid and refers to them as the case demands. There could be times the court would prefer the mischief rule to the literal rule and vice versa depending upon the merits of the case.


It is essential for lawyers and those practicing in the field to understand the terms of the statute so as to communicate and deliver justice. The above serves as a foundation for the students and law practicing professionals to get an insight of how to interpret the words of the statute. Also, legislative language can be complicated for the layman hence the rules of interpretation act as an aid to bridge the gap and ensure easy understanding. Rules of interpretation also helps in ascertaining the concept of meaning of the statute, i.e., the what the word means and concept of purpose or the spirit pervading through the statute. The law also provides for internal and external aids in interpretation that will draw a clear picture for one to read and interpret the statute in the manner it was meant to be understood when it was created for the purpose of justice.

Author’s Name: Sidharth R Mehta (Bennett University, Greater Noida)

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