com·​mon-law | \ ˈkä-mən-ˌlȯ How to pronounce common-law (audio) \

Definition of common-law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or based on the common law
2 : relating to or based on a common-law marriage

common law


Definition of common law (Entry 2 of 2)

: the body of law developed in England primarily from judicial decisions based on custom and precedent, unwritten in statute or code, and constituting the basis of the English legal system and of the system in all of the U.S. except Louisiana

Examples of common-law in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Second, her conviction violated due process because the vague common law of involuntary manslaughter fails to provide guidance to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement in morally fraught cases involving suicide. Danny Mcdonald,, "Attorneys for Michelle Carter ask US Supreme Court to review her conviction in suicide case," 8 July 2019 Given the extent to which online mob behavior so often depends upon a combination of malicious falsehoods and attempted economic reprisals, many incidents immediately implicate the common law. David French, National Review, "The Oberlin Trial Is a Blueprint for Fighting Back," 10 June 2019 Clearly, Britishness is far more than the ability to persevere individual liberty, common law, localism, and freedom of speech. Sahil Handa, National Review, "Reclaiming Britishness from the Brexit Debacle," 10 June 2019 The Restatements are, in essence, guidebooks to the common law. Ian Macdougall, ProPublica, "Soon You May Not Even Have to Click on a Website Contract to Be Bound by Its Terms," 20 May 2019 The Americans also strongly reaffirmed the traditional common law understanding of the Sheriff’s powers and authorities, especially the Sheriff’s autonomy and independence. Marwa Eltagouri, Washington Post, "Jeff Sessions spoke of the ‘Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.’ Here’s what that means.," 12 Feb. 2018 England abolished its version of felony murder in 1957, followed by India, Canada and other common law countries, and the United States remains the only country where the felony murder doctrine still exists. Abbie Vansickle, New York Times, "If He Didn’t Kill Anyone, Why Is It Murder?," 27 June 2018 Gamble argues that the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy is deeply rooted in English common law, which allowed individuals acquitted by foreign courts to raise their acquittals as a defense in British courts. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "A Supreme Court Gamble," 5 Dec. 2018 The Supreme Court has long recognized that two particularly useful sources in understanding constitutional terms are British common law and enactments of the First Congress. Kate Storey, Town & Country, "Could Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Child Be a US President and In Line For the Throne?," 15 Oct. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'common-law.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of common-law


1619, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of common-law was in the 14th century

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English Language Learners Definition of common-law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

used to describe a relationship between a man and a woman that is considered to be a marriage because the man and woman have lived together for a long period of time

common law


English Language Learners Definition of common law (Entry 2 of 2)

: the laws that developed from English court decisions and customs and that form the basis of laws in the U.S.

common law


Legal Definition of common law

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a body of law that is based on custom and general principles and embodied in case law and that serves as precedent or is applied to situations not covered by statute the common law of torts : as
a : the body of law that was first developed in the English courts of law as distinguished from equity and that allows for particular remedies (as damages or replevin) in suits at common law…the right of trial by jury shall be preservedU.S. Constitution amend. VII — compare equity sense 2
b : the body of law developed in England that is the basis of U.S. federal law and of state law in all states except Louisiana — compare civil law sense 2, statutory law



Legal Definition of common-law (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or based on the common law common-law immunity
2 : relating to or based on a common-law marriage her common-law husband

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