The House of Lords decided that as she did not know her property was being used for that purpose, she could not be guilty of the offence with which she was charged. She was a sub-tenant of a farm who had let it to students but retained a room for her own occasional use. Lord Reid said, ‘[W]henever a section is silent as to the mens rea there is a presumption that . . . we must read in words appropriate to require mens rea.'

Source: P109, How the Law Works, Gary Slapper

  1. What's the grammatical structure here? How does one read IN words?

  2. Does this sentence mean 'we must read words appropriately to require mens rea'? If so, why not just write this? If not, what are the similarities and differences ?

2 Answers 2


Read in here is a phrasal verb. Its sense is that in reading the text the words are mentally 'inserted': we read the text as if the absent words were in fact present.

Lord Reid thus says that if a section contains no explicit provision respecting mens rea it is to be read as if it contained language which explicitly requires evidence of mens rea.

In this case the preposition in has no overt object; it acts as a 'particle' rather than a preposition, as in shut down or pass along. Compare the related expression, read into, where the preposition does take an object: we speak of reading an interpretation into a text, as in "You are reading more into my words than I intended."


The confusion here seems to lie in the precise intonation of the phrase.... it should be READ IN WORDS rather than READ IN WORDS. So the phrase 'read in' is synonymous with 'insert'.

At least that's how I noticed it.

  • 1
    Would you please elucidate why you had written READ IN WORDS twice? Should the second instance differ?
    – user8712
    Aug 17, 2014 at 7:15

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