In legal Document there is a following phrase: " She shall receive % annually on the sum"
11 lawyers who read this document divided how to read it. 6 lawyers read it as she have to get SUM + % annually, but admitted that the phrase is ambiguous. 5 lawyers said it is clear stated that she have to get interest only. If you put this sentence into https://grammarly.com/ it will tell you that using the preposition ON is incorrect and recommend to use IN,OF,FROM or USING a BASE. For me it is make a sense, because the thous prepositions clearly mean she shall receive % only. The preposition ON in above phrase never should be used in LEGAL DOCUMENT, in my opinion.What is yours? The price on it may be very expensive. If you are attorney, or English Language scholar, i would appreciate if you indicate it.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is primarily about law rather than English.
    – WS2
    May 6, 2016 at 7:57

1 Answer 1


This is an entirely unremarkable usage of the preposition. The OED notes that one category of usage of on is for

[i]ndicating that which forms the basis of income, taxation, borrowing, betting, profit, or loss.

Here's an example from The Lawyers Reports Annotated (Volume 18):

The lender of money to carry on a business, who stipulates for the payment of a stated percentage annually on the sum or sums he advances, by its proprietor, ... does not thereby become a partner.

So the basis in the sentence of the OP is "the sum", and what she shall receive is the stated percentage applied to that sum. Grammatically, she gets the direct object of receive (the percentage), and not the sum (which is the object of the preposition on).

My advice is to terminate the services of the lawyers who couldn't figure this out, to stop using random web sites that claim to parse English grammar, and to stop making pronouncements about appropriate legal language.

But I am not a lawyer, so this can't be legal advice.

  • I agree that it is an unremarkable usage of the preposition, so you basically agreed that the phrase is ambiguous.It is not about law, as you put it, it is about USING the preposition in English. Unfortunately it is up to judge how she or he will read it and it is only one connection to the law.
    – 37Bons
    May 6, 2016 at 16:21
  • @37Bons Of course a judge will have the final say. But the rules of legal interpretation (at least in the US) require using the plain meanings of words and grammar. Often words have plain legal meanings that differ from ordinary usage (like actual malice), but if that were the case here, one of the lawyers surely would have brought it up.
    – deadrat
    May 6, 2016 at 17:51

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