“Bylaws” or “By-laws”?

Bylaws is spelled both with and without a hyphen. For example, Black’s Law Dictionary gives a definition for bylaw but notes that it’s sometimes spelled by-law.

So which is preferable?

It appears that bylaw is gaining the upper hand. For example, the 1915 edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Revised used by-laws but the current edition, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, uses bylaws. And although its predecessor used by-laws, the new Massachusetts Business Corporation Act, effective 2004, uses bylaws.

So I say by-laws is dead. Long live bylaws!

Of course, lawyers are behind the times, as usual. Last month, 626 contracts filed as “material contracts” on the SEC’s EDGAR system used by-law; only 135 used bylaw.

But note that there are other wrinkles to bylaws. Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage has to say:

Both the spelling and the sense differ on the two sides of the Atlantic. In AmE, bylaws are most commonly a corporation’s administrative provisions that are either attached to the articles of incorporation or kept privately. In BrE, bylaws are regulations made by a local authority or corporation, such as a town or a railway.

The spelling without the –e– is preferred in AmE. Though etymologically inferior, byelaw (sometimes hyphenated) is common in BrE.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.