Which is more accurate: "The president signed the bill..." or "The president signed the law..."?


This is not a social studies question so I should have clarified what I am looking for. The assumption is that I am referring to a U.S. President signing a bill/law.

Using the past tense signed I am implying this happend in the past. Which means the item in question is currently a law, however at the time of signing it was still a bill.

This is a question about tenses more than anything else.

  • Please pose unrelated questions separately. These two questions are only related by the accident that they pertain to the same text; otherwise, they have nothing to do with one another.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 25, 2012 at 21:38
  • The president signs the bill, thereby signing the legislation into law.
    – J.R.
    Sep 25, 2012 at 21:38
  • @ΜετάEd: Why encourage a question to be asked when it's already been answered (more than once, even).
    – J.R.
    Sep 25, 2012 at 21:42
  • @iambriansreed Did you ever do any research on these two completely different words before asking this question?
    – Souta
    Sep 25, 2012 at 22:35
  • @j.r. Possibly you are reading more into my comment than what I wrote.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 25, 2012 at 23:41

3 Answers 3


Until the president signs it, a bill is not a law. It is only a bill.

That is not to say you can never refer to a thing as if it already was in one state before that state has come to be. That's called prolepsis.

2 the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so, as in he was a dead man when he entered.


So if you said the president signed the law, you could be using a rhetorical figure. But in most cases, you wouldn't need to be so fancy.

  • damn your faster fingers. ;-p
    – Hellion
    Sep 25, 2012 at 21:44
  • 1
    But signed is past tense meaning the signing has already taken place meaning it is now a law. Sep 25, 2012 at 21:45
  • This isn't prolepsis, this is just a statement about the past describing things as they are in the present. It's really no different from something as ordinary as "Jack built the house." (Whatever he built, it wasn't a house until he was done.) Sep 26, 2012 at 0:37
  • @DavidSchwartz -- it's different in two ways: the law before it was signed was a definite thing, a bill, but the house was a vague collection of building supplies and plans; and, the act of signing is so brief as to be a point in time, but Jack can continue working long after the building site can be fairly called a house. Sep 26, 2012 at 0:50
  • 1
    @user405662: No, because it is written in a future form from the position of someone who is past that point in history. Prolepsis would be stating from one point in time that something to come is already accomplished:
    – Robusto
    Feb 21, 2021 at 15:53

If he signed a bill, the first is more accurate, if he signed a law, the latter.

The details of what presidents do with regard to bills and laws in their respective countries fall more into the realm of a law discussion than one of the English language.

  • You're missing the point: in the US, when the President signs a bill, by that act, the bill becomes a law. Sep 26, 2012 at 0:47
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    No @Malvolio, you are missing the point. We don't come here to discuss law or the making of it. Even someone with no knowledge of US culture could have inferred that process from the original question, but the question was not about law making but about English. Anyway - FWIW. The thing he signs isn't a law until he has signed it, so when he signs it, it is a bill. Sep 26, 2012 at 17:46
  • Given that, Dominic, which is more accurate: “The president signed the bill…” or “The president signed the law…”? "Obama signed the APA." "He signed a bill?" "Yes." "What is APA?" "A law." Sep 26, 2012 at 18:40
  • The question specifically asks which is the most accurate, so obviously, this is "he signed a bill". I don't think any of us have any doubt that you could easily say either, though. Sep 26, 2012 at 19:07
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    It was a bill Oct 2, 2012 at 14:06

A bill is what gets proposed and passed by Congress and presented to the President.

Assuming that he approves of it, the President signs the bill; sometimes you may hear that he signed the bill into law, because it becomes a law by virtue of having been signed.

Edit based on your update:

It was a bill when the president signed it, so you call it a bill because you are referring to what it was at that point in time. (If the pizza I ate last night has now been fully processed and excreted by my digestive tract, I do not say "Yesterday I ate feces.")

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