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 The states have a preexisting duty back to common law before there was a republic. Tax Notes Staff, Forbes, "The Tax Issues Facing Tax-Exempt Organizations," 27 Apr. 2021 New colonial laws nullified a previous understanding in British common law that baptism granted freedom. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, The New York Review of Books, "A Praise House of Many Mansions," 13 Apr. 2021 Escheat was originally an English common law and was the idea that the real property of a decedent without a legal beneficiary under intestate laws should not be allowed to remain unclaimed. Charles Read, Forbes, "What Is Escheat, And How Does It Affect Every U.S. Business?," 16 Apr. 2021 The United States is a common law country; France and Germany operate under versions of the Napoleonic Code. James M. Rosenbaum, Star Tribune, "Counterpoint: Take it from a judge — put your trust in juries," 14 Mar. 2021 The more than 30 others must remain in jail, the judge said, a departure from the right to bail under Hong Kong’s common law courts. Washington Post, "After marathon bail hearings, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists find themselves back in detention," 4 Mar. 2021 In their lawsuit, the cities claim that the companies have broken the common law of public nuisance by producing and selling fossil fuels. Sarah Bowman, The Indianapolis Star, "Indiana AG Todd Rokita files brief to stop California cities from setting climate policy," 22 Mar. 2021 Now, however, its ties to Beijing are increasingly forged in steel, and its ties to London—especially to traditions of English common law, freedom of speech, and democracy—have weakened significantly. Edwin J. Feulner, WSJ, "Hong Kong Is No Longer What It Was," 3 Mar. 2021 Tell that to Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai, who remains in jail because the government has invoked the national-security law, overturning the presumption of bail in the common law that supposedly governs Hong Kong. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Hong Kong’s Illusionist," 10 Mar. 2021

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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Cite this Entry

“Common-law.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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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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