The word signatory is ambiguous. Black’s Law Dictionary defines signatory as “A party that signs a document, personally or through an agent, and thereby becomes a party to an agreement.” But it’s also used to mean someone who physically signs a contract, whether as a party or on behalf of party. For example, after “Title” under the contract signature line for an entity one sometimes sees “Authorized Signatory.”

I’m unaware of any instance of this ambiguity resulting in confusion in a contract, but it could result in confusion in general writing, so you might want to take avoiding action. For instance, more often than not in writing MSCD I used “party to a contract” and “person signing a contract” rather than signatory.

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.

5 thoughts on ““Signatory””

  1. I would use the word “signatory” to describe a party that had signed a document like a treaty that still required an additional step like government ratification for the document to come into force.

  2. David: I haven’t encountered that nuance. And more to the point, the meaning one gives a word is ultimately less important than the meaning everyone else ascribes to it. Ken

  3. Ken, I always thought “signatory” came from the diplomatic world, where parties to a treaty are “signatories.” That is clearly a reference to the country signing the treaty, not to the particualr individual who inked it.

  4. Scott: I agree, but it’s also used to mean the person signing. If enough people use a word to convey a potentially confusing meaning, your best bet is to find some other word to use rather than insist that those people are wrong. Ken

  5. Hi Ken…

    In Mexico this issue is also common… for example… I usually write “… agreement entered by [Name of the company], being represented by [Name of the person]”…. this way I state that the party to the contract is the company but I’ve seen many lawyers and even Notary Publics in Mexico that write “… agreement entered by [Name of the person], representing [Name of the company]”… in this last case, as you say, even if it may represent no formal problem, I feel it may be somewhat misleading…

    Best Regards.

    Jorge Mafud


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