2

If the purpose of the principle is to allow B to rely on A’s apparent intent, it has been suggested that it should be necessary to show that B has relied in some way: see Atiyah (1986a). English law has generally not explicitly required this (although see Th e Hannah Blumenthal (1983)) and it is submitted that its stance is correct. In the commercial world particularly, it is extremely important that A knows if, at what moment and on what terms he becomes legally bound. Accordingly, it is undesirable for A to have to keep B’s actions under review in order to be able to spot if and when B has relied, and so tell if, when and on what terms a contract has been formed with him.

The lone comma after if confuses me,. Should there be another comma after the bolded one, to specify what the if-clause is?

I'm gessing that the sentence means: 'It's important that A knows if + he becomes legally bound + at what moment and on what terms'. Yet this still sounds wrong? at what moment and on what terms sound too vague to qualify to conclude a sentence?

Source: p 15, The Law of Contract, 5 ed (2012), by O’Sullivan and Hilliard

4

The bolded clause is effectively a conflation of three statements...

it is extremely important that A knows if he becomes legally bound
it is extremely important that A knows at what moment he becomes legally bound
it is extremely important that A knows on what terms he becomes legally bound

I think all competent speakers would pause after the second element in OP's list (at what moment), so to my mind there should be a comma after it. The writer is presumably misguidedly assuming this is an appropriate context for discarding a potential (but superfluous) Oxford comma, but I think doing that in the current context simply makes it more awkward to parse the text in written form.

  • +2 for conflation, -1 for Oxford comma, net gain +1. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 3 '14 at 11:56
  • @TRomano: Do you have any other explanation as to why the writer didn't include a comma after at what moment? I take it if you were speaking the text yourself you would pause at that point - as would the writer, so he presumably didn't consider that as a relevant factor in relation to punctuation. Rightly or wrongly, (wrongly, imho, obviously) he must have been applying some principle. – FumbleFingers Dec 3 '14 at 13:07
  • You may be right. My ears do not always understand the British use of the present in subjunctive situations ("if ... he becomes"). I would prefer "that he has become legally bound, at what moment he became legally bound, and on what terms" --if the idea is to present a list of three important things to know in contracting situations. "If", to me, always expresses possibility not actuality, and so to my ears his statement begins in the hypothetical yet ends in the actual. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 3 '14 at 13:28
  • @TRomano: Well, you're the grammarian, not me. I don't see anything particularly "subjunctive" in OP's example - which would be fine by me if becomes were replaced by became anyway. I also don't see how that change would affect the prosody, and by implication the justification for including a second comma. – FumbleFingers Dec 3 '14 at 14:05
  • I took it to be to know whether he has been bound, and if so, at what point in time and on what terms, rather than a list of three things. I saw first the condition (if he has become legally bound...), and then the two further things to be known that follow when that condition is true. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 3 '14 at 14:24
1

That sentence could be rewritten to be clearer.

In the commercial world particularly, it is extremely important that A know if, and if so, at what moment and on what terms, he has become legally bound.

It is extremely important that A know whether he has become legally bound, and if so, at what moment and on what terms.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.