It’s 2016! – Putting Things In “Order”

Hello 2016! It’s a new year, and I’m putting things in order. I’ll be honest, I’ve been quite absent since my last post. However, a recent legal translation from Portuguese into English I did had me reading up on different kinds of “orders,” and since “order” is on my mind, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to write a short post about some of what I read.

The purpose of this post isn’t to go too in depth because it might only be of interest to a select audience, and, plus, it requires a heavy investment of my time, and lately my work has been keeping me busy enough, not to mention a busy personal life that includes music, scuba diving, and fantasy EPL. 😀

That said, here are a few types of orders that I feel are good to know about when translating, especially within the realm of legal or official documents.

Administrative Order

Administrative orders are issued by public authorities, i.e. government agencies. They are not issued by courts (court orders). They are subject to administrative law/regulations/statutes/procedures. Definitions appear in many sources, from Black’s Law Dictionary to

Circular (Letter)

A circular isn’t an order per se, and they aren’t very common in U.S. bureaucracy, from what I have read, but they are a means of communication in other countries, and they do arise in translations. You might see them in a business or government agency context. Recipients are usually informed of new policies or other important matters, and they instruct (order) the reader to take or refrain from particular actions.

A few definitions in English can be found here:


The RAE also offers a good definition in Spanish: If you look at entry 5, you’ll see that a “circular” is defined as an order from one superior to another, ”Orden que una autoridad superior dirige a todos o gran parte de sus subalternos.”

If we refer Tom West’s Spanish-English Dictionary of Law and Business the entry for “circular” explains that it is similar to a “reglamento” (regulation), but the latter clarifiesa law, whereas the former clarifies a certain order, decision or provision. Regulations put law into practice.

“Circular” does not appear in Black’s Law Dictionary, which, to me, is an indication that it is a common phenomenon in the U.S.

Looking up “circular” in other dictionaries we find:

In the Dicionario Juridico Bilingue by Marina Bevilacqua “circular” is translated as “directive”.

The Michaelis Moderno Dicionario de Portugues e Ingles says “circular, circular letter.”

The Dictionnaire de l’Anglais Juridique by Bernard Dhuicq and Daniele Frison defines “circulaire” as “written directives issued by government department agencies.”

Thus, what we see is that we have options. “Circular” might pass for “administrative order” or “directive” but “circular letter” or “circular” also work. In the end, when faced with this concept in a foreign language, the proper translation may very well “circular” as announced by the title of this section, or another term may work better. Context will dictate what is best for this type of order.

Court Order

A court order commands action be taken or an action be refrained from. e.g. temporary restraining order, or a final order (judgment). Obviously, since a court issues it, this order is found in legal context. There are tons of orders though. The better part of three pages in Black’s Law Dictionary are filled with examples.


A decree is also an order. It may be a court order, i.e. issued by a court to resolve a certain legal issue, traditionally in a court of equity. However, there are other legal contexts such as probate matters and divorce cases. A decree is similar to the term “judgment,” and, in deed, a judgment in a divorce case is called a “divorce decree.”

Curiously the word “decreto” exists in Spanish, which, on the face of it, could be translated as “decree,” but before you translate it as such you’ll want to make sure the context is correct.

If we look refer to the RAE website and look up “decreto” we find: Decisión de un gobernante o de una autoridad, o de un tribunal o juez, sobre la materia o negocio en que tengan competencia.

What’s interesting is that, here, we see that a “gobernante” (a ruler) can issue a “decreto,” too, which isn’t just limited to a court context, as opposed to the most general context in the U.S.

An interesting example of “decreto” that really demands context is “decreto” as a “decreto ley.

In Spanish the RAE dictionary defines it as:

disposición de carácter legislativo que, sin ser sometida al órgano adecuado, se promulga por el poder ejecutivo, en virtud de alguna excepción circunstancial o permanente, previamente determinada.

In Portuguese, Michaelis says:

Decreto com força de lei, que num periodo dictatorial é promulgado pelo chefe de Estado, que concentra em suas mãos as atribuições do Poder Legislativo.”
If you’re following, you’ll notice that this kind of decree is issued by the head of state, i.e. the executive branch, which gravitates toward “executive order.” Looking at the definition in Black’s Law Dictionary we can see that it’s a pretty good match.

Executive Order: An order issued by or on behalf of the President, usu. intended to director or instruct the actions of executive agencies or government officials, or to set policies for the executive branch to follow.

However, I will refrain from saying that “decreto ley” and “decreto-lei” should always be translated as “executive order” because I’ve looked at West’s dictionary, Michaelis, Guillermo Cabanellas de las Cuevas and Eleanor Hogue’s Diccionario Juridico and Bevilacqua’s and the jury is out, so to speak. There are similarities, but also contextual nuances. The point being, however, just plain “decree” might not cut it.


The word directive per se does not appear in Black’s. So, we’ll look on the internet for a definition. According to the free dictionary:

  1. An order or instruction, especially one issued by an authority.

adj. Serving to direct, indicate, or guide.

Merriam Webster, in its second entry ( says the following:

  1. an official order or instruction

This isn’t much different than the meaning for a circular, just that circular doesn’t get used in the U.S.

In Europe, a directive is a legal act of the European Union. Article 288 ( explains the definition better. Obviously, this is a non-American context, so it’s hard to say when this will come into play in a U.S. text.

In any event, we can see that “directive” is another word used to convey the meaning of an order.


An edict is a formal decree, demand or proclamation and derives from the Latin word edictum. An edict was issued by the Roman emperor of his own initiative ad had the force of law. While there is no longer a Roman emperor, an edict can still be issued by the sovereign leader (i.e. the leader president, monarch, dictator, emperor) of certain countries. The main facet of an edict is that it flows from the issuer without solicitation, i.e. the ruler issues it of his/her own volition.

Black’s Law Dictionary, offers a very good explanation in this regard.


A resolution is formal act or action by a legislature (Congress, Parliament) or by a corporate body (board of directors, shareholders). In Black’s Law Dictionary, it is also described as a main motion expressing the sense, will, or action of an assembly. It is not exactly an order, but like an order, action will be taken based on its content.

Along the same lines, the word “resolución” in Spanish is similar. In a legal context it can be translated as a “decision,” “determination, “judgment,” “adjudication” or “disposition,” all of which give rise to action.

As a translator who translates into U.S. English, I would say that I most often use and see “resolution” in a corporate business context, when dealing board meetings, board members, shareholders and the corporate actions resulting from the resolutions adopted in this context.


A writ is a written order issued by a judge ordering a specific action to be taken or to be refrained from. It can be directed at lower courts (e.g. writ of mandamus) or police (e.g. writ of habeus corpus) or other people or entities. The different types of writs in the U.S. legal system are numerous and take up the better part of 5 pages in Black’s Law Dictionary. You won’t see a write except in a legal context.