com·​mon-law | \ˈkä-mən-ˌlȯ \

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 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 legal concepts go back to 17th-century English common law, in which much of American law still finds its basis. German Lopez, Vox, "Florida man who killed black man in parking lot charged with manslaughter," 13 Aug. 2018 Just as Hong Kong benefited from the British legal system, so Dubai has imported British-style common law for the Dubai International Finance Centre, a city within a city where foreign lawyers adjudicate on business matters within its confines. The Economist, "Do buyHow Dubai became a model for free trade, openness and ambition," 21 June 2018 In a unanimous 2011 decision, the Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act displaced the federal common law of nuisance, leaving enforcement and regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency. John Schwartz, New York Times, "Judge Dismisses Suit Against Oil Companies Over Climate Change Costs," 25 June 2018 The cities had relied on the area of public nuisance under state common law, which allows courts to hold parties responsible for actions that interfere with the use of property. John Schwartz, New York Times, "Judge Dismisses Suit Against Oil Companies Over Climate Change Costs," 25 June 2018 Because under common law, a property owner has no right to an unobstructed view over adjoining property. Benny L. Kass,, "In condo association, how do you define a nuisance?," 1 May 2018 The suit seeks damages under federal antitrust laws, Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and a common law claim for unjust enrichment. Ron Hurtibise,, "McDonald's warns of 'utter chaos' if refunds ordered for cheese-less Quarter Pounders," 2 July 2018 In many cases, the duration of state law protection isn't specified -- and in some cases common law copyright could be perpetual (although that could arguably be unconstitutional). Robert Levine, Billboard, "As Music Modernization Act Enters Senate, Anti-Copyright Activists Come Out Of The Woodwork (Column)," 24 May 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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