cause - [countable] a case that goes to court

case - [countable] a question to be decided in court

Do "cause" and "case" mean the same in terms of law?
If not, could you tell me please the difference?

  • The "law" definition for cause is highly domain-specific. Hardly anyone who doesn't work in the legal profession would know it. If you don't, you can ignore it too. I have no idea why Oxford Learners Dictionaries would think it worth giving that cause definition, but a legal case is a meaningful sequence that's used all the time. Jul 8, 2023 at 22:02
  • @FumbleFingers you wrote: "I have no idea why Oxford Learners Dictionaries would think it worth giving that cause definition". To me, "would think" doesn't make sense in this sentence and it needs to be replaced with "thought". But since you wrote it, I understand that it's correct. So could you please explain to me why we can use "would" here? What meaning does "would" have here?
    – Loviii
    Jul 9, 2023 at 7:11
  • 1
    "Why would you say that?" implies criticism of the addressee - probably there's an element of would = will(-power) = insistence, "Why do you insist on saying that? As opposed to the simple enquiry "Why do / did you say that? That's to say, although I said I've no idea why OLD included that definition, the truth is I think they did so because they were thoughtless / careless - they made a mistake, imho. Jul 9, 2023 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


"Cause" in the legal sense is technical. I've no idea what that definition is doing in a learner's dictionary. It would not be typical English to use "cause" in this sense, though you might find it in some compounds, for example in Scottish law:

The Ordinary Cause procedure can be used in the sheriff court where the value of the claim is over £5000.

You may safely ignore that meaning of the word; it took quite a lot of searching to find even that example (in which the word is a proper noun).

A case may not (yet) be before the court. "The police are building a case against him". Or it may be in court: "The case collapsed when the witness refused to testify". In these examples "cause" would not be an appropriate word to use.

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