Definition of law in English:

law

noun

  • 1often the lawThe system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.

    ‘they were taken to court for breaking the law’
    as modifier ‘law enforcement’
    ‘a license is required by law’
    • ‘And another ballot was found to have violated state law requiring that candidates for nonpartisan office be listed alphabetically.’
    • ‘On that basis, they appear to be in violation of the law and subject to legal consequences.’
    • ‘Some people can get away with breaking the law and others face penalties.’
    • ‘The council is required by law to review conservation areas in their jurisdiction on a periodical basis.’
    • ‘Indeed it is in a sense not one which is laid down by law at all.’
    • ‘Legally, the women on the Plantation were bound by English common law.’
    • ‘Constitutional law requires that jury pools must be a fair cross-section of the community and not systematically racially biased.’
    • ‘English domestic law imposes a constraint upon the applicability of the doctrine of legitimate expectation.’
    • ‘In countries where military service is compulsory, failure to perform this duty is frequently punishable by law.’
    • ‘Employers or scheme operators who do not execute this duty immediately for their members are breaking the law.’
    • ‘Each of the offices is empowered within the limits set out by law.’
    • ‘But those horrible laws are still the law of the land because there is absolutely no leadership on the issue.’
    • ‘Adequate fencing of pools will be achieved only if fencing is both required by law and regulations are enforced.’
    • ‘City councilors decided that those breaking the law will incur heavy penalties.’
    • ‘This may be enforced by law, with a clause in the legislation to set up regulation of care providers.’
    • ‘I mean after all, the argument could be put that children are required by law to attend school.’
    • ‘Such litigation brings the law and our legal system into disrepute; and to my mind correctly so.’
    • ‘The police are law enforcers, they abide by the laws they must enforce.’
    • ‘We will make a change to see that justice is served and no more lives will be stolen by law enforcement.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, enforcing contempt orders against stubborn journalists has been self-defeating for law enforcers.’
    • ‘Well if some communities are breaking the law, then throw the book at them.’
    • ‘You must also by law declare certain pecuniary interests in the statutory register kept for this purpose.’
    rules and regulations, system of laws, body of laws, constitution, legislation, code, legal code, charter
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An individual rule as part of a system of law.
      ‘an initiative to tighten up the laws on pornography’
      • ‘The fourth principle is respect for confidentiality and the data protection laws.’
      • ‘Is it time to review the laws on ownership of intellectual property and copyright?’
      • ‘In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a dozen states passed draconian anti-terrorism laws.’
      • ‘The Commonwealth, admittedly, passed laws to repeal it, so that was the end of that.’
      • ‘We hear the Greens urging everyone to pass all these laws, knowing that the law is unlikely to be enforced.’
      • ‘The law that had to be applied is the law of negligence, in essence, perhaps the laws of evidence.’
      • ‘He was above the law and could not be constrained either by the courts or by laws passed by Congress.’
      • ‘Many people have argued that criminal libel laws are unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has never so held.’
      • ‘But sharing test information is illegal - it violates federal copyright laws.’
      • ‘It is natural that these concepts should underpin the codified laws on equality before the law and fair trials.’
      • ‘If we want the government to pass a particular law, we can urge the elected branches to vote for it.’
      • ‘Almost all are familiar with this country's laws against discrimination in the workplace.’
      • ‘It is entirely independent of the copyright laws, and their extension into the domain of art.’
      • ‘He codified the law on public health and passed laws to prevent labour exploitation and recognise trades unions.’
      • ‘Are defamation laws used to gag the discussion of matters of public interest?’
      • ‘Although English copyright law applied to Scotland, it was not enforceable in Ireland until after the Union of 1800.’
      • ‘An initiative drive has begun to make authorities enforce our existing immigration laws.’
      • ‘At the same time, however, we need to oppose the divisive asylum system and the immigration laws that underpin it.’
      • ‘The rules have been around since the mediaeval laws about champerty and barratry.’
      • ‘Jurisdiction to enforce laws relating to dumping follows the same pattern.’
      regulation, statute, enactment, act, bill, decree, edict, rule, ruling, resolution, promulgation, measure, motion, dictum, command, order, stipulation, commandment, directive, pronouncement, ratification, proclamation, dictate, diktat, fiat, covenant, demand, by-law
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Systems of law as a subject of study or as the basis of the legal profession.
      ‘he was still practicing law’
      Compare with jurisprudence
      as modifier ‘a law firm’
      • ‘He graduated from law school in 1985 and articled at the defendant law firm.’
      • ‘What should be mandatory reading for any lawyer or law firm considering starting a blog?’
      • ‘In fact, it was his father who advised him to study law and take up the legal profession.’
      • ‘There are a variety of legal databases available for law firms and universities to subscribe to.’
      • ‘However, this was delayed as he had enrolled at Thamassat University to study law on a part-time basis.’
      • ‘They are not criminologists or law professors who are studying theoretical issues.’
      • ‘He practices commercial and securities litigation at a large downtown law firm in Toronto.’
      • ‘I note that the retained law firm does not take legal aid certificates.’
      • ‘The ultimate goal would be to place the student with the law firm they intern with.’
      • ‘If the law firm fails to ensure clarity, the law firm pays the price.’
      • ‘They had two Washington law firms write legal letters demanding that the ads not be run.’
      • ‘In the duration of the course law students read many subjects and cover volumes of materials.’
      • ‘Next month she will head for Cardiff to study law and criminology.’
      • ‘It is important for students of law to situate the legal doctrine of the EU in its historical and political context.’
      • ‘I would rather be a law professor than anything else, including a judge.’
      • ‘Fourth, most Korean law school professors are not lawyers themselves.’
      • ‘In other words, EC law itself provides the basis for a legal action in the courts of each Member State.’
      • ‘The disciplined practise or study of law does require you state concrete propositions with precision.’
      • ‘Criminal law is a subject of great complexity which students find both fascinating and frustrating.’
      • ‘He resigned after four years to study law; he practised as a barrister for several years, without success.’
      the legal profession, the bar, barristers and solicitors collectively
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3 Statutory law and the common law.
      Compare with equity
      • ‘A very small part of the Common or Statute Law of England is law there by this maxim.’
      • ‘Common law provides a way for property rights to evolve from the bottom up.’
      • ‘Fortescue next explains that a bastard cannot inherit because, under Common law, a bastard child has no father and is nameless.’
      • ‘As long you do not get too far away from the statute which is the law that you have to apply.’
      • ‘Common law lawyers tend to talk about things assuming everyone knows what they mean.’
      • ‘The legislature has picked up these words and turned them into statutory law.’
      • ‘I know of another example of non-enforced statutes of law that always shock people when I tell them about it.’
      • ‘One cannot seriously suggest, we would submit, that the common law is the area of law for the entire high seas.’
      • ‘Common law and statutory rights continue to exist alongside the Convention.’
      • ‘Yet often what trial courts apply is common law - law that was made by other judges.’
      • ‘The Texas statute is sumptuary law that has no value in jurisprudence or society.’
      • ‘This simply translated into statutory form the law as it was previously understood to be.’
      • ‘Common law works by precedent; where there is no specific precedent, it works by analogy.’
      • ‘You then need to look to State statute or common law for the content of the law and for the remedy.’
      rules and regulations, system of laws, body of laws, constitution, legislation, code, legal code, charter
      View synonyms
    4. 1.4 A thing regarded as having the binding force or effect of a formal system of rules.
      ‘what he said was law’
      • ‘So yes, it's your story, and your word is law when it comes to deciding if your vote or the readers’ votes are the deciding ones’
      • ‘When I was a kid, what my parents told me was law.’
      • ‘I guess anything and everything he says is law around here…’
    5. 1.5the lawinformal The police.
      ‘he'd never been in trouble with the law in his life’
      • ‘In a previous run-in with the law, police had gunned down Edward several years ago.’
      • ‘It doesn't take long before he's in trouble with the law but the police are prepared to do a deal with him.’
      the police, the officers of the law, the forces of law and order, law-enforcement officers, police officers, policemen, policewomen, the police force, the constabulary
      View synonyms
  • 2A rule defining correct procedure or behavior in a sport.

    ‘the laws of the game’
    • ‘Every day it seems we hear about some kind of incident with an athlete that runs afoul of the law.’
    • ‘Before long the sports law will be amended to bring about fair play and equality in the voting system.’
    • ‘The referee had made his mark on the match, it was now up to both sides to play the game within his interpretation of the laws.’
    • ‘It was up to the referee to judge whether they stayed within the laws of the game and punish them if they didn't.’
    • ‘Sport is a human activity and we have people, because of the laws of the game, who are able to adjudicate the game.’
    • ‘This is not to mention an ability to play on or perhaps just over the edge of the off-side law, nor putting in the odd illegal late tackle.’
    • ‘The laws of the game should be simple to understand, a test this latest incarnation sadly fails.’
    • ‘Glover agreed that too many people who play the game do not know or understand the laws of the game.’
    • ‘Regardless of whether or not is is true it does point to one of the unwritten laws of football: local derbies are a bit special.’
    • ‘The laws of supply and demand are as rigid as the offside law.’
    • ‘The law states that a handball is awarded only when a player ‘deliberately’ handles the ball when it is in play.’
    • ‘The relaxation of the offside law, for example, means players having to cover more ground at a greater pace.’
    • ‘Foul language is a problem for the law makers in every sport.’
    • ‘At the other end of the scale we have the option of removing the offside law altogether.’
    • ‘Now out of form strikers and captains who cynically exploit the laws of the game are immune from being dropped.’
    • ‘A strong figure is needed to administer the laws of the game for ninety minutes.’
    • ‘Refs and many other officials are present to make sure all football is kept within the laws of the game.’
    • ‘He helped athletes to cheat, using drugs that broke sport's doping laws.’
    • ‘His walk-off was totally without warning and against both the spirit and the laws of the game.’
    • ‘Players should be obliged to be fully conversant with the laws of the game.’
    rule, regulation, principle, convention, direction, instruction, guideline, practice
    View synonyms
  • 3A statement of fact, deduced from observation, to the effect that a particular natural or scientific phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present.

    ‘the second law of thermodynamics’
    • ‘Biologists do not claim that life is exempt from any of the laws of thermodynamics.’
    • ‘The third law is included in most thermodynamics texts, but is not recognised by all as a law of thermodynamics.’
    • ‘Entropy, because it is the measure of the second law, is always associated with energy.’
    • ‘In physics, this is the law of thermodynamics: that heat will always flow from hot to cold.’
    • ‘These assumed action at a distance and deduced the mathematical laws for induction of electric currents.’
    • ‘Scientific laws were to be seen as agents in the implementation of this purpose in the cosmos in general and on earth in particular.’
    • ‘Venus and Mars follow Newton's laws, but electrons are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics.’
    • ‘It's a law of thermodynamics, and no one has ever witnessed a sustained violation of it.’
    • ‘Finally, the interrelations of event-chains is what scientific causal laws describe.’
    • ‘It did not state the law of universal gravitation nor Newton's three laws of motion.’
    • ‘As always my Zeroth law is that the best policy is no policy.’
    • ‘In it, Newton revealed his laws of motion, and the law of universal gravitation.’
    • ‘Neither has the second law of thermodynamics nor the universal law of gravitation.’
    • ‘The barrier we are hitting is basically the barrier set by the laws of atomic physics.’
    • ‘The zeroth law of thermodynamics is commonly expressed as heat flowing from hot to cold objects.’
    • ‘It is governed by scientific laws, and is or can be an object of discovery.’
    • ‘Electrons and atoms are not like tiny snooker balls bouncing around in accordance with Newton's laws.’
    • ‘In 1893 Wien stated his displacement law of blackbody radiation spectra at different temperatures.’
    • ‘No, you are dealing with certain laws, scientific laws in relation to human tissues.’
    • ‘What if you could distil your own sharpest observation into a scientific law that would bear your name?’
    fact, verity, certainty, certitude
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1 A generalization based on a fact or event perceived to be recurrent.
      ‘the first law of American corporate life is that dead wood floats’
      • ‘The patterns I have been discussing in this section are of course generalizations, not iron laws.’
      • ‘Struggle is the law of existence and suffering is a condition for progress.’
      • ‘The other day when I was writing about the fate of mobile applications, I mentioned one of the laws of technology strategy.’
      • ‘One of very few universally valid laws of history is the law of unintended consequences.’
      • ‘What football needs is simply sound management based on the basic laws of the market economy.’
      • ‘Change is the law of life.’
  • 4The body of divine commandments as expressed in the Bible or other religious texts.

    • ‘It recognizes the Ten Commandments as eternal law and the Old Testament as Holy Writ.’
    • ‘In morals Simon was probably Antinomian, an enemy of Old Testament law.’
    • ‘Muslim leaders in Kenya are threatening armed conflict if the new Kenyan constitution does not enshrine Islamic law.’
    • ‘The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi called for an eye for an eye long before the Israelite law did.’
    • ‘He distinguished between law and ethics in the Bible and highlighted the value of biblical law as a paradigm.’
    • ‘The Old Testament is not just a book of history, law and prophecy.’
    • ‘As a bishop, she is pledged to uphold church law and file charges against pastors who openly defy it.’
    • ‘In some Christian traditions, a very sharp distinction is made between law and gospel.’
    • ‘Are Christians to take all the Old Testament law as applying to them?’
    • ‘The church itself often speaks too strongly out of reason and law and not enough out of spirituality.’
    • ‘Even when danger is not imminent, religious law may be violated to prevent the risk of future danger.’
    • ‘Nowhere in Scripture is the Old Testament law divided into moral/civil and ceremonial.’
    • ‘Traditionalists tend to be the vast majority of Muslims when it comes to the classical Islamic law.’
    • ‘They claim that I maximize the failings of states governed by strict Islamic law.’
    • ‘Yet it takes only one sin for us to stand condemned according to God's holy law.’
    • ‘All our life we live knowing that God's justice demands satisfaction for our transgression of God's law.’
    • ‘The Pharisees shared this commitment to the Law and saw law keeping as a primary religious duty.’
    principle, rule, precept, directive, direction, injunction, instruction, commandment, prescription, standard, criterion, belief, creed, credo, ethic, maxim, formula, tenet, doctrine, canon
    View synonyms
    1. 4.1 The Pentateuch as distinct from the other parts of the Hebrew Bible (the Prophets and the Writings)
      • ‘We know that still this Law calls us to rest from work and to worship God.’
      • ‘The priest and the Levite who pass by unconcerned are the Old Testament law and prophets.’
      • ‘They would rather kill Jesus than violate the Law - a Law originally intended to help the people of Israel remain inside the covenant with God.’
      • ‘Moses commanded us a Law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.’
      • ‘The Torah, then, was not merely a Law written in a perishable book, or part of a covenant with the people of Israel.’
    2. 4.2 The precepts of the Pentateuch.
      Compare with Torah
      • ‘The Talmud and Jewish law describe the mutual obligations of husband and wife.’
      • ‘While it is true I am not seeking to please God by obeying the precepts of the Law of Moses, I still am not living in sin.’
      • ‘As it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.’
      • ‘He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given.’
      • ‘In the Old Testament, the law of Moses was given to the people on tablets of stone.’
      • ‘For example, at one time the ceremonial Law of Moses required that the Jews not wear clothing of mixed threads.’
      • ‘The masses want an eye for an eye, the Law of Moses, implemented post-haste.’
      • ‘Jewish law requires every Jew to give up his life rather than desecrate the Name of Hashem in public.’
      • ‘Instead he follows Jewish law for the Jews to punish them in case of crimes like theft, murders and rape or adultery.’
      • ‘According to the Law of Moses, faithful Jews were expected to keep the Sabbath sacred as a day of rest.’
      • ‘The day of worship was changed from the Sabbath under the Law of Moses in the time following Jesus' death and resurrection.’
      • ‘During this visit, the believers from Jerusalem began to insist that the Gentile Christians in Antioch adopt all the prescriptions of the Law of Moses.’

Phrases

  • at (or in) law

    • According to or concerned with the laws of a country.

      ‘an agreement enforceable at law’
      ‘an attorney-at-law’
      • ‘That is so and, indeed, somewhat the distinction might be rights at law and rights in equity because at law the widow always has the ability to enforce the contract.’
      • ‘This meant that the land would descend only to the lineal issue of the person specified and not to any other persons who would otherwise have been regarded as possible heirs at law.’
      • ‘Does the Defendant have any ground at law for preventing the Claimant from obtaining possession?’
      • ‘In sum, looking at the course of conduct, I find that there was a waiver at law of the landlord's right to forfeiture.’
      • ‘That issue was whether those assumed and admitted facts were ‘sufficient, at law, to give rise to an independent tortious duty of care’.’
      • ‘They prompt the question whether improper conduct has occurred which may be actionable at law.’
      • ‘The claimant has to show that the tribunal erred in law in refusing leave.’
      • ‘Therefore I do not accept that the Tribunal erred in law on this aspect of the case.’
      • ‘Such attacks normally took one of two forms, either that of prosecutions and fines at law for misfeasance, or the more drastic resort of attainder and forfeiture.’
      • ‘A person solely entitled to the full beneficial ownership of money or property, both at law and in equity, does not enjoy an equitable interest in that property.’
  • be a law unto oneself

    • Behave in a manner that is not conventional or predictable.

      • ‘Developers are a law unto themselves, above the normal laws of community, ruling not only local government, but state and federal governments - a very dangerous situation for us all.’
      • ‘Our bus and autorickshaw drivers are a law unto themselves.’
      • ‘She said: ‘They're a law unto themselves and they thought it was amusing I had to give in.’’
      • ‘It is the mentality of members of the current government to think they are a law unto themselves and that they have the right to, without redress, build this and take that!’
      • ‘In the decades since World War II, as military leaders and monarchs smothered democratic life, the security agencies have become a law unto themselves.’
      • ‘How is it that such ‘brave’ people cannot handle the auto rickshaw drivers who have become a law unto themselves?’
      • ‘Instances of suppression, third degree methods and atrocities committed against the innocent have left them with no other conclusion than that the police are a law unto themselves.’
      • ‘They are all 17, their A-level exams this summer loom like a nasty, scholastic Matterhorn, but in this half-term break they are a law unto themselves.’
      • ‘‘But unless these kids are tightly controlled and organised, they will become a law unto themselves,’ said a media source who asked not to be named.’
      • ‘It encourages others to become a law unto themselves, and it becomes a precedent for the government to do that again and again and again.’
  • go to law

    • Resort to legal action in order to settle a matter.

      • ‘Scrapping no-win no-fee deals where solicitors take up cases which previously would have been settled without going to law.’
      • ‘If there is a dispute when a cohabitation contract is terminated then both parties have to go to law - just as when a married couple are divorced.’
      • ‘But however serious those four examples are, it is better impossible to resolve it than to go to law; you would agree?’
      • ‘And it is even more disconcerting if two officers of the council, having gone to law and losing, now pass on the bill for this affair to the rate-payers.’
      • ‘I asked the insurance company not to pay it, but they did because it was cheaper to settle it that way rather than going to law.’
      • ‘Her decision not to go to law at the time is understandable, given how rape trials can be for the victim a prolonged continuation of the original trauma.’
      • ‘He went to law whenever he believed he was being cheated.’
      • ‘It is clear pitches are being badly prepared, but the authorities are afraid to impose the swingeing penalty of a 25-point ban since they know the penalised county would go to law.’
      • ‘And if you feel you've been denied that quality of life by reason of the state's shortcomings, you go to law.’
      • ‘Neighbours go to law, and even shoot each other, over the most trivial boundary disputes.’
  • law and order

    • A situation characterized by respect for and obedience to the rules of a society.

      • ‘He intends to campaign on issues such as law and order and the number of economic migrants trying to get into Britain.’
      • ‘One of the first precepts of any civilised society is respect for law and order.’
      • ‘One wouldn't want to allow something as frightful as ordinary people having a say in law and order, would one?’
      • ‘It would have to give people security, humanitarian aid, peace, and some form of law and order.’
      • ‘The estate is patrolled by ex-soldiers who are helping to restore law and order.’
      • ‘For those with no respect or regard for law and order, such rules and laws are irrelevant.’
      • ‘The state has assigned the task of maintenance of proper law and order in the country to the police.’
      • ‘To restore and preserve law and order, there will be 10,000 extra police on the streets.’
      • ‘He said that if he decides to stand he will campaign on ‘a return to law and order and decency’.’
      • ‘There was no law and order, even when the soldiers came and made a barricade with barbed wire outside the station.’
      law and order, lawfulness, order, peacefulness, peaceableness, harmony, harmoniousness, accord, concord, amity, amicableness, goodwill, friendship, cordiality, non-aggression, non-violence
      View synonyms
  • lay down the law

    • Issue instructions to other people in an authoritative or dogmatic way.

      • ‘If even the greatest writers are not bound by the rules and we have no academy to lay down the law, who is to decide what is acceptable and what is not?’
      • ‘Whatever difficulties or problems arise in terms of schooling in the future are best dealt with not by people laying down the law but by people listening to each other's needs.’
      • ‘He said: ‘It made us realise that listening to each other and negotiation is better than confrontation and laying down the law.’’
      • ‘She'll lay down the law on headline issues and take your calls.’
      • ‘While the details of the proceedings were not made public, there is no doubt that Bolton attempted to lay down the law.’
      • ‘Tonight, TV's No.1 judge lays down the law on family squabbles.’
      • ‘Democrats should see regulating the labor market to keep the big fish from eating the little fish as a modern parallel to laying down the law on Wall Street after 1929.’
      • ‘He has gone for ground rules rather than laying down the law.’
      • ‘Whether or not the Minister and the Government has the right to lay down the law for a sporting body like this is another question and very much open to debate.’
      • ‘In the wake of the elections, media owners have wasted no time in laying down the law to the incoming government, demanding lower business costs and taxes.’
      order someone about, order someone around, tell someone what to do, boss someone about, boss someone around, ride roughshod over someone, be dogmatic, be domineering
      View synonyms
  • take the law into one's own hands

    • Punish someone for an offense according to one's own ideas of justice, especially in an illegal or violent way.

      • ‘Instead he was let down by the State and he did the one thing that was left for him to do - he took the law into his own hands.’
      • ‘There have been numerous cases of abuse and illegal detentions; people are not supposed to be taking the law into their own hands.’
      • ‘It is not up to the common person to take the law into their own hands and dish out what they deem to be justice.’
      • ‘It seems that as part of this intifada, people on both sides are taking the law into their own hands and committing acts of violence against the other community.’
      • ‘It would sanction excessive conduct which allowed headstrong, violent people to take the law into their own hands in a way which no civilized society could permit.’
      • ‘If anyone, it was they who could have persuaded the justice-seekers to remain calm and not to take the law into their own hands.’
      • ‘Otherwise, people will take the law into their own hands to fight for justice.’
      • ‘Far better if they fear that they will themselves be punished for their trouble, and instead take the law into their own hands.’
      • ‘A motorist plagued by yobs interfering with his parked car took the law into his own hands - with a broom handle.’
      • ‘They urged police to crack down on racist yobs before youths took the law into their own hands.’
  • take someone to law

    • Initiate legal proceedings against someone.

      • ‘We'd be thrown out of any court in the land if we took them to law.’
      • ‘The Board took them to law and won the first round in the English courts, but the owner challenged that finding in the European Court of Justice.’
      • ‘That and the written terms may be their defence if you take them to law over it.’
      • ‘In 1796 Thackeray, together with several other patent ‘pirates'’ were taken to law by Boulton and Watt and, for a while, this engine was stopped.’
      litigation, legal action, legal proceedings, lawsuit, justice
      View synonyms
  • there's no law against it

    • informal Used in spoken English to assert that one is doing nothing wrong, especially in response to an actual or implied criticism.

      ‘I can laugh, can't I? There's no law against it’
      • ‘Calling electors - of course, there's no law against it.’
      • ‘I mean, it's perfectly legal, there's no law against it.’
      • ‘Even though there's no law against it, you may be interrogated the next time you snap a picture of the Empire State Building.’
      • ‘I can't say it's criminal, because there's no law against it, but it's certainly immoral.’
      • ‘We can still be friends Andi, there's no law against it.’

Origin

Old English lagu, from Old Norse lag ‘something laid down or fixed’, of Germanic origin and related to lay.

Pronunciation

law

/lɔ//lô/