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Ejusdem Generis

Meaning: Of the same kind.

Ejusdem Generis is a Latin term which means ‘of the same kind’. It is used to interpret loosely written statutes. Where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general, the general statements only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed.

For example, if a law refers to automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, and other motor-powered vehicles, a court might use ejusdem generis to hold that such vehicles would not include airplanes, because the list included only land-based transportation. Take another example, in a list including dogs, cats, parakeets and similar animals, the phrase, ‘similar animals’ would mean other types of pets since the other animals in the list are common pets.

In simple words, the doctrine of ejusdem generis is that general words ought to be construed with reference to the words, which are immediately around them. The purpose of this doctrine is to reconcile any inappropriateness between specific and general words so that all words in a statute can be given effect and no word becomes superfluous.

The Sunday Observance Act, 1677, provided that no “tradesman, artificer, workman, labourer or other person whatsoever” should do certain things. In this Act, the general phrase “other person whatsoever” was held to refer only “persons within the class indicated by previous particular words” and not, therefore, to include such persons as farmers or barbers.”

Therefore, we can say that using ejusdem generis principle means providing a general word a restricted meaning as per the words preceding the general words, which are of specific category or genus.

Ejusdem generis means, “Where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent. They are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned. It is a canon of statutory construction, where general words follow the enumeration of particular classes of things, the general words will be construed as applying only to things of the same general class as those enumerated.” Black’s Law Dictionary.

The rule is that when general words follow particular and specific words of the same nature, the general words must be confined to the things of the same kind as those specified. But the specific words must form a distinct genus or category. KK Kochuni vs State1)

Conditions for the applicability

As already said, the expression ‘ejusdem generis’ means of the same kind. Normally, general words should be given their natural meaning like all other words unless the context requires otherwise. But when a general word follows specific words of a distinct category, the general word may be given a restricted meaning of the same category. The general expression takes its meaning from the preceding particular expressions. This is because the legislature by using the particular words of a distinct genus has shown its intention to that effect. This principle is limited in its application to general word following less general word only. If the specific words do not belong to a distinct genus, this rule is inapplicable. Consequently, if a general word follows only one particular word, that single particular word does not constitute a distinct genus. Therefore, ejusdem generis rule cannot be applied in such a case.

The ejusdem generis rule applies when:

  1. the statute contains an enumeration of specific words;
  2. the subjects of the enumeration constitute a class or category;
  3. that class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration;
  4. the general term follows the enumeration; and
  5. there is no indication of a different legislative intent.

Amar Chandra Chakraborty vs The Collector of Excise2)

About the Author

author Sunil Sharma is an advocate; editor and compiler of legal commentaries, having authored more than 40 books.

AIR 1960 SC 1080
AIR 1972 SC 1863

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