Above the Law

Therefore is the common adverbial conjunction meaning “for that reason,” “consequently,” or “so.” It always states a conclusion when used correctly {the accident occurred at 8 a.m.; therefore rush-hour traffic was snarled for hours}. The stress is on the first syllable.

Therefor (stress on the last syllable) means “for that” or “for it.” It’s usually found in legal writing {after litigating the fraud count for six years, the fiduciary was finally punished therefor}. But it’s jargon and should be avoided for stylistic reasons {after six years of litigation, the fiduciary was finally convicted of fraud}. As Eric Partridge noted, “[m]any quite good writers do not even know of the existence of therefor.” Usage and Abusage 341 (1982). And I might propound that they’re better writers therefor.

Take care in punctuating therefore for three reasons. First, in short sentences, don’t set it off by commas — that destroys the rhythm and is just awkward {we must, therefore, deny the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss} {the Supreme Court, therefore, reversed the lower court’s decision} {it is, therefore, necessary to read every term in the contract}. In each example, omitting the commas tightens and improves the sentence’s flow.

Second, incorrect punctuation around therefore can create a run-on sentence or a comma splice. In a run-on sentence, two independent clauses are incorrectly written with no punctuation between them {federal-circuit caselaw on each of the textual-interpretation doctrines applies squarely in the defendant’s favor therefore the court should dismiss the suit}. In a comma splice, two independent clauses have merely a comma between them {federal-circuit caselaw on each of the textual-interpretation doctrines applies squarely in the defendant’s favor, therefore the court should dismiss the suit}. The correct solution here is to put either a semicolon or a period before therefore.

Third, when a comma appears before therefore, the preceding word picks up emphasis (sometimes falsely). As H.W. Fowler pointed out: “it must be remembered that the putting of a comma before therefore inevitably has the effect of throwing a strong accent on the preceding word, and that some preceding words are equal to that burden, and some are not.” A Dictionary of Modern English Usage 634 (Ernest Gowers ed., 2d ed. 1965). To see the false emphasis in each of the following examples, place a strong stress on the word preceding therefore as you read the sentence aloud:

• It, therefore, comes as a surprise that he passed away so suddenly. [Falsely emphasizing it rather than surprise.]

• Samuel, therefore, rescheduled the deposition to the last Monday of the month. [Falsely suggesting the importance of Samuel rather than the rescheduling.]

• The corporation’s profits are down from last year and, therefore, the board must implement new policies. [Falsely emphasizing and: therefore would fit more comfortably between must and implement -- without commas of course.]

Confusing therefore and therefor may negatively affect how lawyers and judges view your legal writing, which may, in turn, weaken your persuasiveness. Therefore learn to correctly use and punctuate these homophones.


Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 891 (3d ed. 2011).
Garner’s Modern American Usage 810-11 (3d ed. 2009).
The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style 313 (3d ed. 2013).

Thanks to Joel R. Hall, Joryn Jenkins, and Brian D. Walters for suggesting this topic.

Bryan A. Garner, President of LawProse Inc., is the most prolific CLE presenter in the U.S., having trained more than 150,000 lawyers and judges. His book — most prominently Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern American Usage — have been cited as authority by every state and federal appellate court, including the highest. For more about him, go to www.lawprose.org. To follow him on Twitter: @bryanagarner.

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