Noscitur A Sociis and Pari Delicio.

The rule of noscitur a sociis is based on the maxims: "A man is known by the company he keeps" and "Birds of a feather, flock together". The rule says that words used in an Act of Parliament
The rule of noscitur a sociis is based on the maxims: "A man is known by the company he keeps" and "Birds of a feather, flock together". The rule says that words used in an Act of Parliament
Noscitur A Sociis
Home » Law Notes » Interpretation of Statute » Noscitur A Sociis and Pari Delicio.

The rule of noscitur a sociis is based on the maxims: “A man is known by the company he keeps” and “Birds of a feather, flock together”.

The rule says that words used in an Act of Parliament derive their meaning with reference to words found in immediate connection with them.

Maxwell in ‘Interpretation of Statutes’ says that “when two or more words are clubbed together, they are understood to be used in their cognate sense.”

Associated words take their meaning from one another under the doctrine of noscitur a sociis. The philosophy behind the rule is that the meaning of the doubtful word may be ascertained by reference to the meaning of words associated with it. The word ‘noscitur’ means to know and ‘sociis’ means the association or society.

The noscitur a sociis rule is wider than the ejusdem generis rule; rather the latter is an application of the former. In fact the doctrine of ejusdem generis is only an illustration or specific application of the broader maxim noscitur a sociis.

In noscitur a sociis rule the words clubbed together in. a provision of a statute susceptible of having analogous meaning are understood to be used in their cognate sense and take their colour from each other.

Noscitur a Sociis Meaning:-

Latin Phrase, Noscitur = to know, Sociis = Association “to know from the association”
• Meaning of a word is to be judged by the company it keeps.
• Unclear word or phrase should be determined by the words immediately
surrounding it.
• If multiple words having similar meaning are put together, they are to be
understood in their collective.
• Questionable meaning of a doubtful word can be derived from its association with other words.
• This principle needs a word or phrase or even a whole provision that stand alone
has a clear meaning.


Mobile ,Laptop ,Tablet in exam Hall and walky Talky.

Application of the rule

The rule applies only where there is any doubt about the meaning attached to the
words. Before the rule of noscitur can be pressed into service, it must be shown that the words are employed in the same sense or that they are susceptible of analogous meaning. It can be used only when intention of the legislature is not clear.

According to Maxwell When two or more words used in a statute are susceptible of analogous meaning then:

  • They are understood to be used in their cognate sense,
  • they take their colour from each other,
  • The meaning of more general word is restricted to a sense analogous to that of the less general,
  • associated words explain and limit each other.

Non-Application of the Noseitur Rule

This rule has a limited application and cannot be applied where the intention of the legislature is clear from the words used, or where there is no doubt about the meaning of those words. It cannot be applied where:

  • The intention of the legislature is clear and the meaning of the words is clear.
  • The words have been given a wider connotation intentionally, the doctrine cannot be invoked to narrow down the meaning of the words used in the statute.

Case Laws

In Alamgir v. State of Bihar

The construction of Section 498, Indian Penal Code was involved.

This section says: ‘Whoever takes or entices away any woman who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of any other man, from that man, or from any person having the care of her on behalf of that man, with intent that she may have illicit intercourse with any such person, or conceals or detains with that intent any such woman, shall be punished’.

The facts in this case were that a married woman, voluntarily leaving her husband, started living openly with the appellant against whom a prosecution under Section 498, Indian Penal Code was launched.
The appellant contended that the charge must fail because he had neither taken or enticed away the woman nor had he concealed or detained her.

The main question to be decided by the court was that since there was no taking, enticement or concealment of the woman by the appellant as she was voluntarily and openly living with him, did the action of the appellant fall under the expression detains used in Section 498. The Supreme Court held that though the word detains generally means detention against will, this meaning cannot be attributed to the word here because the expression should be construed in the light of other words in its company. This means that the word detains should be interpreted with reference to the expression takes, entices and conceals used in Section 498. The word detains, therefore, should mean detention without the consent of the husband. Section 498 protects the rights of a husband who has been deprived of the company of his wife and in the light of this object also the expression detains must mean keeping a woman without the permission of her husband. The woman’s consent under this provision is, therefore, meaningless.

In State of Assam v. Ranga Mohammad 1967

In this case Article 233 (1) was in question which says Appointment of
persons to be and the posting and promotion of District Judge in any state shall
be made by Governor of the state in consultation with the High Court of that
In this case the word ‘Posting’ was in question. The Supreme Court
while interpreting the word ‘Posting’ it derived two meaning :

  1. Stationing someone at a place
  2. Assigning someone to a post, position or job
    The second meaning is the appropriate meaning under the circumstances because this alone leads us to the correct intention of the legislature. The legislature has used the word posting in association with the words appointment and promotion and, therefore, posting means that kind of posting which is in the nature of an appointment and a promotion.
    Out of the above-cited two meanings of the words, the second meaning resembles with the nature of the other two words and, therefore, the principle of noscitur a sociis is applicable. Posting cannot mean a transfer in relation to the idea of appointment and promotion.
    If the intention of the legislature was that posting would mean transfer, it would easily have used that word in place of the word posting.


  • Statute: The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  • Sections: 2(j), 25F (6)
  • Section 2(j): The Industry is defined. Industry means any business, trade,
  • undertaking, manufacturing of calling of employers and includes any
  • calling, service, employment, handicraft, or industrial occupation or
  • avocation of workmen.
  • Section 25F (b) : Compensation- Condition precedent to retrenchment of
  • the workman.
  • Facts: Respondents engaged as ward servants in the J. J. Group of Hospital, Bombay were retrenched without payment of compensation.
  • Court
    • Section 25F (b) – Mandatory language of the section is plain and unambiguous in effect. Payment of compensation is a condition precedent to retrenchment.
    • The object and scope of the Act – It is clear that the Legislature in defining the word Industry was deliberately using the term of wide import in its first clause. The second part of the definition provides inclusive definition.
    • Court examined the meaning of different terms used in section 2(j): Undertaking, Business, Trade, Service.
    • If the definition has deliberately used words of such wide import, it would be necessary to read those words in their wide denotation and so Hospitals cannot be excluded from the definition.
    • It is inappropriate to apply noscitur a sociis so as to restrict its meaning.


1Meaning of the same kind.Meaning To know from its associates.
2It is a narrower principle.It is a wider principle.
3To interpret loosely written statutes.To interpret questionable words in

In pari delicto potior est conditio possidentis:

  • It is a Latin phrase for “in equal fault ,better is the condition of the possessor.” This means when the parties are equally at wrong, the condition of the possessor is considered to be better.
  • Simply put, it means a person in a wrongful act cannot sue another person in the same wrongful act. When two parties have equally wronged, courts will generally not interfere with the status quo, which is the reason why the possessor is at benefit.
  • The doctrine is also known as the dirty hands or unclean hands doctrine.
  • To successfully apply the doctrine, the plaintiff must be an active, voluntary participant in the wrongful conduct, and the plaintiff’s wrongdoing must be at least substantially equal to that of the defendant.
  • Furthermore, the doctrine of in pari delicto may be subject to the “adverse interest” exception, which applies when an agent is defrauding the principal exclusively for the agent’s own benefit and to the detriment of the corporation.

The phrase is most commonly used by courts when relief is being denied to both parties in a civil action because of equal wrongdoing by both parties. The phrase means, in essence, that if both parties are equally at fault, the court will not involve itself in resolving one side’s claim over the other, and whoever possesses whatever is in dispute may continue to do so in the absence of a superior claim. It is an equitable defence.

The ‘doctrine of comparative fault’ (a doctrine of the law of torts that compares the fault of each party in a lawsuit for a single injury) and ‘doctrine of contributory negligence’ (applicable when plaintiffs/claimants have, through their own negligence, contributed to the harm they suffered) are not the same as in pari delicto, though all of these doctrines have related policy rationale underpinnings.

This maxim has much relevance to the money paid by mistake and the refusal
to refund resulting in the unjust enrichment.

Therefore, the Court held in Mahabir Kishore v. State of MP 1989 that the money may not be recoverable if in paying and receiving it the parties were in pari delicto.

Regarding the question whether a tax paid under mistake of law is refundable
the Court held in STO v. Kanhaiyalal [1959], that “a person is entitled to recover
money paid by mistake or under coercion, and if it is established that the payment, even though it be tax, has been made by the person labouring under a mistake of law, the party receiving the money is bound to repay or return it though it might have been paid voluntarily, subject, however, to questions of estoppel, waiver, limitation or the like. The person and the Government in paying and receiving are not in pari delicto; and, therefore, the aforesaid person is entitled to recover the amount.” The amount does not become recoverable if in paying and receiving both the payer and the recipient are in fault, i.e., they are in pari delicto.

Therefore in the famous case of Immani Appa Rao v. Collapalli Ramalingamurthi [1962] 3 SCR 739 the Supreme Court opined that where each party is equally in fraud, the law favours him who is actually in possession, or where both parties are equally guilty, the estate will lie where it was.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *