In this Article, we know the Rules of Interpretation/Construction, but first we have to understand the meaning of both terms.


Interpretation of statutes is the correct understanding of the law. This process is commonly adopted by the courts for determining the exact intention of the legislature. Because the objective of the court is not only merely to read the law but is also to apply it in a meaningful manner to suit from case to case. It is also used for ascertaining the actual connotation of any Act or document with the actual intention of the legislature.

According to Salmond “Interpretation”  is the process by which the court seeks to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.


Construction is the process of drawing conclusions about the subjects which are beyond the direct expression of the text. The courts draw findings after analyzing the meaning of the words used in the text or the statutes. This process is known as legal exposition. There are a certain set of facts pending before the court and construction is the application of the conclusion of these facts


These rules can be broadly classified as follows


• Rule of Literal Construction
• Rule of Reasonable Construction
• Rule of Harmonious Construction
• Rule of Beneficial Construction
• Rule of Exceptional Construction
• Rule of Ejusdem Generis


  • Effect of usage
  • Associated Words to be Understood in Common Sense Manner


Rule of Literal Construction

It is the cardinal rule of construction that words, sentences, and phrases of a statute should be read in their ordinary, natural, and grammatical meaning so that they may have an effect in their widest amplitude. At the same time, the elementary rule of construction has to be borne in mind that words and phrases of technical nature are ‘prima facies used in their technical meaning, if they have any, and otherwise in their ordinary popular meaning.

When the statute’s language is plain and unambiguous and admits only one meaning, no question of the construction of a statute arises, for the Act speaks for itself. The meaning must be collected from the expressed intention of the legislature (State of U.P. v. Vijay Anand, AIR 1963 SC 946). A word that has a definite and clear meaning should be interpreted with that meaning only, irrespective of its consequences

Sometimes, occasions may arise when a choice has to be made between two interpretations – one narrower and the other wider or bolder. In such a situation, if the narrower interpretation would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, one should rather adopt the wider one

Rule of Reasonable Construction

According to this Rule, the words of a statute must be construed ‘ut res magis valeat quam pereat’ meaning, meaning that words of a statute must be construed to lead to a sensible meaning. Generally, the words or phrases of a statute are to be given their ordinary meaning. A statute must be construed in such a manner so as to make it effective and operative on the principle of ut res magis valeat quam pereat

So while interpreting a law, two meanings are possible, one making the statute absolutely vague and meaningless and other leading to certainty and a meaningful interpretation, in such case the later interpretation should be followed.(Pratap Singh v State of Jharkhand(2005)3 SCC 551)

Rule of Harmonious Construction

When there is doubt about the meaning of the words of a statute, these should be understood in the sense that they harmonize with the subject of the enactment and the object the legislature had in view. Their meaning is found not so much in a strictly grammatical or etymological propriety of language, nor even in its popular use, as in the subject or in the occasion on which they are used and the object to be attained. Where there are in an enactment two or more provisions that cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted, wherever possible, as to give effect to all of them.

This is what is known as the Rule of Harmonious Construction. An effort should be made to interpret a statute in such a way as harmonizes with the object of the statute

Rule of Beneficial Construction or the Heydon’s Rule

Where the language used in a statute is capable of more than one interpretation, the most firmly established rule for construction is the principle laid down in Heydon’s case (1584) 3 Co. Rep 7a 76 ER 637. The rule which is also known as ‘purposive construction’ or mischieve rule, enables consideration of four matters in construing an Act:

(1) what was the law before the making of the Act;

(2) what was the mischief or defect for which the law did not provide;

(3) what is the remedy that the Act has provided; and

(4) what is the reason for the remedy.

The rule then directs that the courts must adopt that construction which ‘shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.’ Therefore, even in a case where the usual meaning of the language used falls short of the whole object of the legislature, a more extended meaning may be attributed to the words, provided they are fairly susceptible to it.

If, however, the circumstances show that the phraseology in the Act is used in a larger sense than its ordinary meaning then that sense may be given to it. If the object of a statute is public safety then its working must be interpreted widely to give effect to that object. Thus, the legislature had intended, while passing the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 that every workman in the prescribed trade should be entitled to compensation, it was held that the Act ought to be so construed, as far as possible, as to give effect to its primary provisions. Statutes that require something to be done

Rule of Exceptional Construction:

The rule of exceptional construction stands for the elimination of statutes and words in a statute that defeats the real objective of the statute or makes no sense. It also stands for the construction of words ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘may’, ‘shall’ & ‘must’

Rule of Ejusdem Generis:

The term ‘ejusdem generis’ means ‘of the same kind or species’. Simply stated, the rule means

  • Where any Act enumerates different subjects, general words following specific words are to be construed (and understood) with reference to the words that precede them. Those general words are to be taken as applying to things of the same kind as the specific words previously mentioned unless there is something to show that a wider sense was intended. Thus, the rule of ejusdem generis means that where specific words are used and after those specific words, some general words are used, the general words would take their color from the specific words used earlier. For instance ‘in the expression in consequence of war, disturbance or any other cause’, the words ‘any other cause’ would take color from the earlier words ‘war, disturbance’ and therefore, would be limited to cases of the same kind as the two named instances.

Similarly, where an Act permits the keeping of dogs, cats, cows, buffaloes, and other animals, the expression ‘other animals’ would not include wild animals like lions and tigers, but would mean only domesticated animals like horses, etc. Where there was a prohibition on the importation of ‘arms, ammunition, or gunpowder or any other goods’ the words ‘any other goods’ were construed as referring to goods similar to ‘arms, ammunition or gun powder (AG vs. Brown (1920), 1 KB 773).

  • If the particular words used exhaust the whole genus (category), then the general words are to be construed as covering a larger genus.
  • We must note, however, that the general principle of ‘ejusdem generis’ applies only where the specific words are all of the same nature. When they are of different categories, the meaning of the general words following those specific words remains unaffected-those general words would not take color from the earlier specific words. In the expression charges, rates, duties, and taxes’, the term charges was read ejusdem generis taking color from the succeeding terms’ rates, duties, and taxes.

Here, the general category preceded the enumeration of specific categories and so the rule of ejusdem generis was technically not applicable and the court in fact applied the more general rule- Noscitur a sociis and rightly limited the meaning of the term charges.


Effect of usage

Usage or practice developed under the statute is indicative of the meaning recognized to its words by contemporary opinion. A uniform notorious practice continued under an old statute and inaction of the Legislature to amend the same are important factors to show that the practice so followed was based on a correct understanding of the law. When the usage or practice receives judicial or legislative approval it gains additional weight

Associated Words to be Understood in Common Sense Manner

When two words or expressions are coupled together one of which generally excludes the other, obviously the more general term is used in a meaning excluding the specific one. On the other hand, there is the concept of ‘Noscitur A Sociis’ (‘it is known by its associates’), that is to say ‘the meaning of a word is to be judged by the company it keeps. When two or more words that are capable of analogous (similar or parallel) meanings are coupled together, they are to be understood in their cognate sense (i.e. akin in origin, nature, or quality).

They take, as it were, their color from each other, i.e., the more general is restricted to a sense analogous to the less general. It is a rule wider than the rule of ejusdem generis, rather ejusdem generis is only an application of the noscitur a sociis. It must be borne in mind that nocitur a sociis, si merely a rule of construction and it cannot prevail in cases where it is clear that the wider words have been deliberately used in order to make the scope of the defined word correspondingly wider




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