Linguistic Features of Legal Spanish (I)

Whether you are a learner of legal Spanish or a legal translator working from Spanish into another language, you should be aware of the linguistic characteristics which are unique to this specialised language (‘lengua de especialización’) and which have been highlighted by authors such as Luis Alberto Rodríguez-Aguilera, Margarita Hernando de Larramendi, Enrique Alcaraz Varó or Jorge Luis Morales Pastor. Find some below:

Ablative absolute: A common grammatical feature of legal Spanish is the use of the ablative absolute clause, derived from Latin. Ablative absolute clauses replace subordinate clauses defining the timing or cause of an action, for a more abbreviated form, and are usually participial phrases separated by commas. Take the example below, an extract from a judgement delivered by the First Instance Court No. 8 (‘Juzgado de Primera Instancia N.º 8’) of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria:

Observadas las prescripciones legales sobre control de la conformidad, -previa información al acusado por S.Sª. de las consecuencias y prestada libremente-, se dictó “in voce” sentencia de conformidad, sin perjuicio de su ulterior redacción, imponiendo la pena solicitada reducida en un tercio.

‘Observadas’ here replaces ‘Una vez observadas/que se observaron’ or ‘después de que se observaron’, whereas ‘prestada libremente’ (regarding ‘conformidad’) is a substitute for ‘una vez prestada libremente’.

Polysemy: words carrying different meanings in general and legal contexts. For example:

  • Concurso: Usually meaning ‘competition’, in some areas of law, for example, criminal law, this term can be used for denoting ‘concurrence’ (concurrent offences or ‘concurso de delitos’, meaning that the same offender commits several acts which are punishable under criminal law (‘concurso real’) or one single act that infringes several statutory provisions (‘concurso ideal’). There is also the term ‘concurso de acreedores’, used in company law and describing a legal proceeding that takes place when a natural or legal person becomes insolvent. Finally, in contractual law, we use the expression ‘concurso de voluntades’, meaning that for a bilateral agreement to exist, the wills of both parties need to concur.
  • Allanar: In a general context, this verb would mean ‘to flatten’, ‘level’ or ‘even out’, but in civil procedural law it means ‘to admit (a claim)’ when used in its pronominal form and forming the collocation ‘allanarse a la demanda’ or ‘allanarse a las pretensiones’. For example: ‘La sociedad demandada se allanó a la pretensión deducida en su contra‘.
  • Interesar: In judgements delivered from Spanish courts, it is common to see this verb meaning ‘to request’. For instance, ‘Los demandados se han opuesto al recurso presentado, refutan sus argumentos e interesan, en definitiva, su desestimación.’

The Spanish future imperfect subjunctive: Conjugated in a similar way to the future perfect of subjunctive (the ‘-ra’ form becomes ‘-re’), the future imperfect subjunctive has become obsolete and is only found in legal texts (including contracts), old sayings and literature. It expresses a hypothetical action in the future. For example, ‘Si transcurrido el plazo no se hubieren abonado dichas sumas…’.

These are some of the characteristics that make Spanish legal language unique. If you found this first part interesting, check the second one here.


Gutiérrez, Javier. 10 de agosto de 2010. El español jurídico: propuesta didáctica orientada a la acción como base para un curso. MarcoELE. Núm. 11, págs. 4-6.

López Navarro Vidal, Elena.“Visto para sentencia”: actividades para la enseñanza-aprendizaje del español de los juicios. Universitat de València. Grupo Val.Es.Co. Págs. 7-8.

Judgement delivered by First Instance Court No. 8 of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria dated 24/04/2020 (ES:JI:2020:59) (

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