German Speakers and Use of “Will” in Contracts

Today @KentPitman shared the following thought with me:

I used to do programming language standardization both nationally and internationally. I noticed some German speakers had a particular attitude (I’d almost say phobia) around the use of the word “will” as a compulsion.

They never explained it and seemed to think it was obvious, so I’m not certain, but I eventually came to believe it was because the German verb “wollen” conjugates to “will” and is an apparent false cognate with English, so I think they were worried the English word would have the sense it seems to have in German. (I’m not a German speaker, but take this as something to look into if you know someone who is.)  Maybe start here:

It seems to have the meaning “prefer” or “want” or “come what may” and this seemed to be what they feared—that it was a verb of volition (which may even be the etymology of volition, I didn’t check).

Someone who attended one of my seminars in Hamburg earlier this year mentioned something similar. In theory, it could make native German speakers squeamish about using will in language of policy in contracts, as in Acme will be responsible for paying all taxes and This agreement will terminate if ….

German speakers, what say you? How does this play out in the categories-of-contract-language scheme of things?

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.