Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Ab Absurdo Definition:

Latin: an evidentiary suggestion or statutory interpretation that is, or leads to, an absurdity.

From absurdity, absurd; based on absurdity; used to describe an assertion that leads to an absurdity.

A pattern or set of suggested legal reasoning or interpretation that leads to an unacceptable conclusion because it results in a conclusion that is patently absurd.

The rules of statutory interpretation reject any proposed interpretation that would lead to an ab absurdo result.

Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes wrote:

"Where the language of a statute, in its ordinary meaning and grammatical construction, leads to a manifest contradiction of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or to some inconvenience or absurdity which can hardly have been intended, a construction may be put upon it which modifies the meaning of the words and even the structure of the sentence. This may be done by departing from the rules of grammar, by giving an unusual meaning to particular words, or by rejecting them altogether, on the ground that the legislature could not possibly have intended what its words signify, and that the modifications made are mere corrections of careless language and really give the true meaning."

An example of an ab absurdo interpretation of a statute or of a contract would be where the conclusion empties the phrase under scrutiny of no effect whatsoever. Neither the legislature nor persons who sign contracts can intend that a phrase of their contract have no effect whatsoever and so therefore, such an interpretation would be ab absurdo.

Some jurisdictions have codified this type of suggested interpretation such as §1428 of the Quebec Civil Code:

"A clause (of a contract) is given a meaning that gives it some effect rather than one that gives it no effect."


  • Civil Code of Quebec, Statutes of Quebec 1991, Chapter 64.
  • Langan, P., Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, 12th ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1969), p. 228
  • Mayrand, A., Dictionnaire de maximes et locutions latines utiliées en droit (Montréal: Editions Yvon Blais, 2007).

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