1. What semantic notion connects the bolded meaning beneath with all the others that aren't related to recompense? To me, nouns like remittance or solatium (if we prefer an uncommon term) fit the bolded meaning more intuitively. I'm asking about the etymology of 'consideration', not its meaning in contract law.

  2. Which semantic shift is this?

mid-14c., consideracioun, "a beholding, looking at," also "a keeping in mind," also "contemplation, reflection,"
from Old French consideracion (12c., Modern French considération) and directly from Latin considerationem (nominative consideratio) "consideration, contemplation, reflection," noun of action from past-participle stem of considerare "to look at closely, observe" (see consider).

Meaning "a taking into account, act of paying attention to" is from late 14c.; that of "examination, observation" is from early 15c.. Sense of "thoughtful or sympathetic regard" is from c. 1400. Meaning "that which is or should be considered" is from late 15c. Meaning "something given in payment" (as recompense for service) is from c. 1600.

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    I'm not convinced that your definitions exclude usages in contract law. On what basis are you ruling out a legal explanation?
    – mRotten
    Dec 17, 2018 at 21:42
  • @mRotten I'm not excluding "usages in contract law", but I'm asking how the juridical concept relates to the other meanings. Please make explicit the underlying semantic notion?
    – user50720
    Dec 18, 2018 at 2:30
  • A contract is a mutual exchange of promises (with the intention of being legally bound) or, as lawyers also put it: one party agrees to do something or forbear from doing something in consideration of the actions or inaction of the other party. From there, consideration as a noun in its own right seems an easy leap. ...but maybe it's not as simple as I think, and that's etymologically back-to-front or sideways or worse.
    – tmgr
    Jan 7, 2019 at 23:13
  • correction: not a noun in its own right (it was always that, of course) but a term with legal meaning in its own right
    – tmgr
    Jan 7, 2019 at 23:25

3 Answers 3


Consideration in contract law today is considered (at least one element of) the essential defining elements of what a "contract" is in the first place, and that there must be of something value given in exchange of the promise of the one thing for the other. Contracts that "fail" for lack of consideration, are not strictly speaking enforceable, or may be considered void or at least voidable, as nothing of value was offered in exchange. This is the legal essence of the term "consideration." It is easy to see how this term went from a "term of art" in the law, as it is called, to a more general sense of "regarding or thinking about something," but that is non-specialized use of the word consideration. There is not properly speaking a "semantic shift" as both meanings perpetuate in the English language today, one as a "term of a art" in the law, and used by legal professionals, the other used by everyday persons talking about the more common meaning.

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    I suspect that its use in contract law comes from its use in "normal" English to mean something given in payment, rather than the other way round.
    – user184130
    Jul 21, 2018 at 11:17
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    This only raises the question of how 'consideration' meant "something value given in exchange of the promise of the one thing for the other"?
    – user50720
    Dec 13, 2018 at 1:27

I think the missing piece is with the legal definition of consideration:

Say, for example, that your neighbor admires your bicycle. You know you are moving soon, so you offer (an "offer" is an element of a contract) to sell it to her for $100 (consideration). She accepts your offer (acceptance is also an element of a contract), but can't pay you until she goes to the bank. So, you scribble a quick note describing both of your intentions to enter into this agreement and hand her a copy of the note. You now have an enforceable contract because the elements of a contract are in place, including this "bargained-for" exchange.

While a consideration can be money, it doesn't have to be. In fact, it wasn't at first. According to the OED:

At its first appearance it is hardly a technical term, or distinguishable from motive; it gradually acquired its precise technical meaning in the course of the 17–18th centuries. Natural affection was formerly called good consideration, as contrasted with valuable consideration

The first appearance the OED refers to is this quote from 1530:

Yf the promyse be so naked that there ys noo maner of consyderacyon why yt sholde be made, then I thynke hym not bounde to performe yt.

(Translation: If the promise be so naked that there is no manner of consideration why it should be made, then I think him not bound to perform it.)

St. Germans Secunde Dyaloge Doctour & Student

From there it should be easy to see the connection with another even earlier (c1460) definition of the word (also from the OED):

The taking into account of anything as a motive or reason; a fact or circumstance taken, or to be taken, into account; a reason considered.

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    Can you please make explicit the underlying semantic notion? Sorry, but I still don't spot the connection.
    – user50720
    Dec 13, 2018 at 1:28

Consideration meaning payment is derived from the juridical concept according to which it refers to “a promise of something of value given by a promissor in exchange for something of value given by a promisee; and typically the thing of value is goods, money, or an act.

Consideration is a concept of English common law and is a necessity for simple contracts but not for special contracts (contracts by deed). The concept has been adopted by other common law jurisdictions, including the US.

Consideration may be thought of as the concept of value offered and accepted by people or organisations entering into contracts. Anything of value promised by one party to the other when making a contract can be treated as "consideration":

for example:

if A signs a contract to buy a car from B for $5,000, A's consideration is the $5,000, and B's consideration is the car.


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    Doesn't your answer just state the definitions? I'm uncertain how it expounds the etymology?
    – user50720
    Dec 15, 2018 at 0:18
  • @Greek-Area51Proposal - I think you have to accept the fact that the expression is derived from a juridical concept , whether you like it or not.
    – user 66974
    Dec 15, 2018 at 6:35
  • Other than law usage, the word connects to the substantive deliberate evaluation of an article, object, workmanship, or presentation (play, movies, performance). And is not necessarily about legal compensatory evaluations. "I didn't think the movie was worth the ticket price or the 2 hours in the theater." Is not a legal matter, but, this statement is inclusive in the word 'consideration'. Legal usage would be determining the movie's out of pocket cost, time in theater and other factors for compensation to the aggrieved patron. dictionary.reverso.net/english-definition/consideration Dec 18, 2018 at 1:39
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    @user240918 I can envision "the fact that the expression is derived from a juridical concept", but I'm asking how the juridical concept relates to the other meanings. It doesn't appear as if you make explicit the underlying semantic notion?
    – user50720
    Dec 18, 2018 at 2:30

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