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Or even –uble?

Perhaps not one of the burning questions of the day, but I bet you’ve hesitated over this at least once.

I did recently, when trying to Google an antiques dealer who had a well-priced early 20th-century silver snuffbox. The dealer used the form collectibles in its business name, it turned out.

This is the (mostly) US spelling of the preferable (but disappearing) collectable, which means ‘that may be collected’ (Violators are subject to a fine collectable on summary conviction) or ‘(thing) worth collecting, sought after by collectors’ (Silver snuffboxes are highly collectable – really!).

Is there a general rule for determining which ending to use? Most of the time it’s –able, and usually if the stem is a complete word in itself (bill/billable, as opposed to feasible or tangible, which aren’t formed from feas and tang).

The more detailed rules are a bit arcane.

The default position is –able, unless the word is derived from a Latin verb ending in –ere or –ire, or where there is a well-established ­ible form (like collectible?) in English already.

If your Latin is a bit rusty, you’ll just have to remember a list of words like this:

  • demonstrable (–able replaces the final –ate in demonstrate, as with abominate, alienate, appreciate, calculate etc.)
  • enforceable (the final –e of enforce stays so the following consonant stays soft; same thing for manageable, pronounceable etc.)
  • forgivable (the final –e in forgive drops out because it isn’t necessary for pronunciation; same thing for movable, usable and the like)
  • justifiable (the final –y gets converted to an i)
  • predictable


  • convertible
  • incorrigible (compare uncorrectable)
  • incredible (compare unbelievable)
  • irresistible
  • perceptible (perceivable)
  • responsible
  • reversible
  • soluble and insoluble (a soluble substance, an insoluble problem – although unsolvable is also possible for the latter)

Where the stem ends in a hard C or G, or a consonant that gets doubled in the adjectival form, go with –able (amicable, navigable, forgettable).

New words have tended not to go with the –ible ending.

Sometimes there are two forms, not always with the same meaning: extendable and extendible are interchangeable; but contractable (‘able to be caught’, like a disease) isn’t the same as contractible (‘capable of being made smaller’).

Totally confused now?

Next: your queries answered, part 3

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)



Are you looking to develop more effective legal research skills?  Consider checking out Legal Research Essentials: Finding Cases on Point from Courthouse Libraries BC.  This is a hands-on legal research course consisting of several video modules.  The video modules visually demonstrate how to search free legal resources like CanLII.  You can find the course online at

The course is hosted by Alex McNeur, a reference librarian with Courthouses Libraries BC.  Alex explains in the introductory video that the course is designed to help practising lawyers learn how to locate case law based on a particular fact pattern.  The course has four teaching objectives:

  • How to identify strong keywords for efficient research
  • How to use the keywords to find relevant cases
  • How to find related cases by noting up your case
  • How to check if the cases found are still good law

Each video of the course works towards resolving a particular legal scenario:   Does the engagement ring need to be returned if the wedding is called off?  Some of the course content has been specifically created for British Columbia lawyers.  However, members of the Saskatchewan Legal community should still find Legal Research Essentials: Finding Cases on Point extremely useful.

Did you know that the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library  has also created a series of video tutorials that demonstrate how to search CanLII and the Saskatchewan Cases Database?  Please comment below if you are familiar with any other helpful legal research video tutorials.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


English is a very difficult language to learn – and not just for those whose mother tongue is something else.

Native speakers may, in fact, have a harder time, because they may have picked up the rules (more or less accurately) by osmosis, rather than having them clearly articulated.

This is complicated by English spelling, which is fluid. Before the early 1700s, you could spell things more or less how you felt – which largely meant phonetically. There were, for example, 20-odd variants of Shakespeare in use during the playwright’s lifetime (and his own spelling of the name was inconsistent).

Even modern writers are faced with choices, and there isn’t always a clearly preferred spelling – as the following examples will attest.

Dreamed or dreamt?

Many verbs used to have past-tense forms ending in both –ed and-t. In modern English, one form or the other may survive, or sometimes both. It isn’t always clear which one is better: go by instinct.

No one still writes stopt or curst, but on the other hand you would always use crept, dealt, felt, kept, meant, slept and swept.

Verbs that could go either way: bereave, burn, dream, kneel, lean, leap, learn, smell, spell, spill, spoil.

Amongst and whilst are still with us, although the latter is not often seen in North America. Someone plumped for betwixt in response to the tip on between versus among, but don’t go there.

Preventive or preventative?

Both OK, shorter form better?

 Roofs or rooves?

Both are correct. My instinct would have been to go for rooves, but the Oxford English Dictionary Online and Fowler’s Modern English Usage prefer roofs. Not sure I agree…

Similar words that could go either way (and Fowler prefers –fs except as noted): hoof, oaf, scarf (-ves better), staff (staffs when it’s about personnel, staves when musical), wharf.

And then, of course, there are the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom there is no linguistic (or perhaps other) explanation. (The rapper Snoop Dogg likes Leafs for a different reason.)

Next time: should that be –able or –ible?

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Regulations generally come into force on either a date specified in the regulation itself or, if no date is specified, on the date that regulation was filed. (Note that this is not the case for Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, or Québec.)

The coming into force provisions for a regulation are usually found in the Regulations Act (or equivalent) of a jurisdiction:

  • Federal: “Every enactment that is not expressed to come into force on a particular day shall be construed as coming into force … (b) in the case of a regulation, on the expiration of the day immediately before the day the regulation was registered pursuant to section 6 of the Statutory Instruments Act or, if the regulation is of a class that is exempted from the application of subsection 5(1) of that Act, on the expiration of the day immediately before the day the regulation was made.” (Interpretation Act, RSC 1985, c I-21, s 6(2))
  • Alberta: “Unless a later day is provided, a regulation comes into force on the day it is filed with the registrar and in no case does a regulation come into force before the day of filing.” (Regulations Act, RSA 2000, c R-14, s 2(2)).
  • British Columbia: “A regulation or portion of a regulation comes into force on the date of its deposit unless (a) a later date is specified in the regulation, or (b) an earlier date is specified in the regulation and the Act under which the regulation is made authorizes the regulation to come into force on an earlier date.” (Regulations Act, RSBC 1996, c 402, s 4(1))
  • Manitoba: The Statutes and Regulations Act, CCSM c S207, s 20
  • New Brunswick: “A regulation or any provision of a regulation comes into force on the day that it is filed with the Registrar unless (a) a later day is specified in the regulation, or (b) an earlier day is specified in the regulation and the Act under which the regulation is made authorizes the regulation to come into force on an earlier day.” (Regulations Act, RSNB 2011, c 218, s 3)
  • Newfoundland: “Unless another day is provided, subordinate legislation comes into force on the day it is published under section 11 but in no case does subordinate legislation come into force before the day of filing unless it is provided in the Act under the authority of which the subordinate legislation has been made or approved.” (Statutes and Subordinate Legislation Act, RSNL 1990, c S-27, s 10(2))
  • Northwest Territories: “A regulation or part of a regulation comes into force on the day on which it is registered unless (a) a later day is specified in the regulation, or (b) an earlier day is specified in the regulation and the Act under which the regulation is made authorizes the regulation to come into force on an earlier day, in which case the regulation comes into force on the later or earlier day, as the case may be.” (Statutory Instruments Act, RSNWT 1988, c S-13, s 8)
  • Nova Scotia: Regulations Act, RSNS 1989, c 393, s 3(6)
  • Nunavut: Statutory Instruments Act, RSNWT (Nu) 1988, c S-13, s 8
  • Ontario: “Unless otherwise provided in a regulation or in the Act under which the regulation is made, a regulation comes into force on the day on which it is filed.” (Legislation Act, 2006, SO 2006, c 21, Sch F, s. 22(2))
  • Prince Edward island: ”Every regulation which is not expressed to come into force on a particular day comes into force on the day the regulation is published in the Gazette.” (Interpretation Act, RSPEI 1988, c I-8, s 3(4))
  • Québec: “A regulation comes into force 15 days after the date of its publication in the Gazette officielle du Québec or on any later date indicated in the regulation or in the Act under which it is made or approved.” (Regulations Act, CQLR c R-18.1, s 17)
  • Saskatchewan: “A regulation or part of a regulation comes into force on the date of its filing unless: (a) a later date is specified in the regulation; or (b) an earlier date is specified in the regulation and the Act pursuant to which the regulation is made authorizes the regulation to come into force on the earlier date.” (Regulations Act, SS 1995, c R-16.2, s 5)
  • Yukon: “Unless a later day is provided, a regulation shall come into force on the day it is filed with the registrar.” (Regulations Act, SY 2002, c195, s 2(2))

There are, of course, exceptions; for example in Alberta, section 1(2) of the Regulations Act lists legislation which is not considered to be a regulation for the purposes on the Act.

Susannah Tredwell


This one may surprise you.

Purists often say that between must – MUST! – refer only to a relationship involving two parties or things, and no more. The –tween bit does have the same origin as the number two, after all.

Among, the purists say, is to be used when the relationship involves three or more persons or things.

The purists are too pure. The Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage have long warned that this supposed distinction between between and among is mere ‘superstition’.

According to OED, ‘between has been, from its earliest appearance [at least as far back as the year 931], extended to more than two’ – and ‘it is still the only [emphasis added] word to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually; among expresses a relation to them collectively and vaguely…’

One would therefore correctly say:

  • The space lying between the three trees
  • A treaty between three states
  • A difficult choice between three candidates
  • You are among friends
  • Among many choices, he took the easiest option
  • She is a keen tennis-player, among other things

In contractual drafting, however, you may be better off saying The agreement among X, Y and Z – if only to keep the (misguided) purists at bay.

As Ross Guberman observes in Deal Struck: The World’s Best Drafting Tips (2014), debating the point with the purists is probably ‘not constructive’.

And while we’re on the subject…

Never between you and I. Always between you and me.

Next: it could go either way

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Are you using CanLII Connects for your legal research?  CanLII Connects is a phenomenal website that features high-quality legal commentary and summaries of Canadian court decisions.  It’s a continually growing source of authoritative legal commentary that is free, accessible, and open to anyone.  Currently, the site boasts summaries of thousands of Canadian decisions dating back to the 1800s.

CanLII Connects is more than just a website.  It’s a community resource.  It brings together members of the legal community and provides a space to share their analysis and opinions of court decisions.  The commentary found on CanLII Connects is created by members of the legal community.  Only qualified members of the legal community and registered users of this site are permitted to post.  This maintains quality.

From the homepage, summaries can be quickly sorted by jurisdiction, date, or author.  This makes it easy to find summaries from a particular province or contributor.  Each summary is linked directly to the full text case on CanLII.  Conversely, cases on CanLII are linked to any summaries available on CanLII Connects.

CanLII Connects has made big waves and received some prestigious awards including the Canadian lawyer Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award and the Canadian Law Blog Award.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has been a major supporter of CanLII Connects since it was launched in April 2014.  To date, the Law Society Library has submitted almost 25,000 summaries of Saskatchewan court decisions to CanLII Connects.  This represents our entire collection of case digests.  As you may know, the Law Society Library employs a number of contract digesters to summarize and digest Saskatchewan court decisions.  These digests appear in Case Mail, our popular semi-monthly newsletter, and in the Saskatchewan Cases database.

We have been proud to support CanLII Connects.  It is an impressive endeavour that signifies major changes to the world of legal information and publishing.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


This is an excerpt from an actual letter received from a writer whose identity shall remain shrouded with a justly deserved veil of anonymity:

“We acknowledge your recent correspondence and attachment of the 29th instant with thanks, same being forwarded herewith to our client for reference and review, with the writer confirming our telephone conversation of the 19th, and your undertaking not to take steps to the detriment of our client without ample prior notice to the contrary being first given to the writer, [client] presently being in the process of retaining litigation counsel to deal herewith, with service being endorsed herewith on the true copy as requested.”

Instant? No one has used that for ‘of the current month’ since about 1870. Three instances of herewith in one sentence?? And it’s not entirely clear what the third one is referring to…  Same?! Ugh, ugly commercialese – and, logically, it refers here to thanks not correspondence and attachment (which the writer presumably had in mind). And the writer??!! You’re a lawyer, not Queen Victoria – so there’s no need to refer to yourself in the third person.

I fear this lawyer also writes to clients in the same vein …

Here’s a proposed translation, which may not be much shorter – but at least it’s clearer and doesn’t sound like something drafted by some scrivener in a novel by Dickens:

“Thank you for your letter and attachments of [month] 29, which we have forwarded to our client. We remind you of your undertaking, when we spoke on the 19th, to give notice before taking any steps which may adversely affect our client. Our client is now seeking litigation counsel. We have received your client’s statement of claim and return the signed copy you requested.”

Less egregious, but equally Dickensian (in a bad way):

  • please find attached/enclosed (even in the days of physical letters the please find business was weird and archaic; you can simply say I have attached the X or refer to the X, which is attached)
  • please do not hesitate to … (the reader is a grown-up and can figure whether he or she wants or needs to do that; this is meaningless and faintly patronising)
  • this is to acknowledge (just say thank you for whatever it is; by doing that, you’ve acknowledged it)
  • govern yourself accordingly (the worst kind of wannabe Perry Masonism; it should be clear from your letter, if you’re writing to a lawyer, that the recipient should be on notice about something – and if you aren’t writing to a lawyer, it sounds even more cheaply menacing)
  • we appreciate your consideration herein (another gem from Steven’s correspondent; herein usually means ‘contained in this document’, so the meaning is unclear; but you’re better not even to go there)

Please avoid these (and other) worn-out phrases, which have altogether too much of the inkwell and the quill pen about them.

Next tip: between and among

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Tracing the legislative history of an act can be challenging, and even more so if the act you are looking at is the Income Tax Act. Here are some things to keep in mind when tracing the legislative history of the Income Tax Act:

  • The Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. 1 (5th Supp.) maintains the section numbering from the previous version, rather than being renumbered.
  • The Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1970, c. I-5, although published in the revision, never came into force due to the major changes proposed by the bill that later became S.C. 1970-71, c.63.
  • Although S.C. 1970-71-72, c. 63 was an amending act, it repealed and replaced almost all of the Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1952, c.148, so you periodically see references to “the Income Tax Act, S.C. 1970-71-72, c.63”.

Susannah Tredwell


The fourth in a series.

Next week: please don’t tell me you write letters like this

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Me and others, in fact: these are largely submissions by loyal readers.

No, you are thinking of almost. It’s all right – two words, always.

A word that used to be used to mean ‘in any way, in any respect, at all’. Witness the Book of Common Prayer (1560): ‘ all those who are anyways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate’ (btw, English prose doesn’t get much better than the BCP).

More recently, anyways has come to mean ‘in any case, at all events, anyhow’ – but in usage that is variously described as ‘informal, ‘colloquial’, ‘dialectical’ or (ahem) ‘illiterate’.

The better way, in both speech and writing, is anyway.

Asking questions that aren’t questions
Just because you use a word that can pose a question doesn’t mean you’re necessarily asking one. The question mark in this blog post is wrong: When Three Rights Make a Wrong? – this is a statement, not a question. Reframe it as ‘When do three rights …’ and you can add your question mark.

The problem often arises in student memos: The first issue is whether a motion for summary judgment would succeed? Wrong again; statement, not question.

The disconnect
This should have been included in the tip on weak nouns formed from verbs.

I am so sick of hearing about the disconnect! Please say disconnection, disjuncture, failure (not fail), communication failure, gap – anything but the disconnect.

Firstly, lastly
These have a ring of circa 1875 to them: you’d be better not to use them.

One of the oddities of traditional English style is enumerating as follows: First, Secondly, Thirdly … Last. Firstly appears, in fact, to be a nineteenth-century invention that has always sounded fussy.

In modern writing, you could even go with second and the like over  the –ly form, which has the advantage of being consistent with both first and last.

Why do people tack on this prefix where it really isn’t necessary?

Please don’t preheat your oven, just heat it – this requires prior action before you can cook, so pre- is redundant.

Similarly, pre-arrange, pre-book, pre-build, pre-chilled, pre-cooked, pre-existing, pre-owned (just say used or second-hand), pre-plan, pre-prepare (an absurdity of the first order), pre-qualify, pre-select and pre-set can all lose the pesky prefix and suffer no loss in meaning. The concept of priority is built into all of them.

Pre-drinking as a concept has its uses, however – even if, linguistically, it also fails the logic test.

Stating the perfectly obvious
You really, really don’t need to write Gurpreet Singh (‘Singh’) if he’s the only Singh you mention in your client update or blog post. This isn’t contractual drafting.

Similarly, there is no need to say two (2) months (or whatever unit you’re talking about). Everyone knows what two means, and no amount of ‘for greater certainty’ is necessary. Even in contractual drafting.

Next: confusing pairs, part 4

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)